And G-d said “Let Us make man in Our image” —Genesis 1:26
Let Us make? Our image?
What ever happened to “Hear, O Israel: …G-d is one”?!
The Torah is both a narrative and a book of laws, but it is also much more. The Hebrew word Torah connotes practical instruction, and the Torah teaches us the path to the ultimate life experience. Right from the very first chapter (Genesis 1:26) G-d takes the lead, teaching by example and communicating a timeless lesson in sensitivity and consideration.
Man was created by G-d Himself; G-d required neither advice nor assistance. But He knew that the angels would feel jealous and disgruntled when the time came for man to be created, so He consulted them; “let Us create man, in Our image, as Our likeness”. The Creator made them feel included in a decision that really did not require their input, raising their morale and soothing their hurt before they even felt it. Already during creation G-d was demonstrating that even those who are indeed great are not beyond humility and must be sensitive and thoughtful.
There is another angle to this verse, that offers its own food for thought.
This is not the only occasion in the Torah where G-d is referred to in the plural. Interestingly, whenever G-d is associated with a plural description or action, it is always when He is called by the name ‘Elokim’ (as opposed to the other names for G-d that are used in the Torah) — as is the case in this verse: “And Elokim said ‘Let Us make man in Our Image, as Our likeness'”.
It’s a matter of grammar
There is a grammatical association between the name Elokim and the plural form, but the grammar connection also serves as the face of a profound and fascinating world that lies beneath its surface.
First, the grammar.
Just like in English a single garment may be called pants or trousers which are plural words, there are nouns in Hebrew that are technically plural although they refer to singular subjects. ‘Michnasayim’ (pants) is one example, Elokim is another. Just as one would say that their pants “are in the closet” while they would say that their shirt “is in the closet”, the image of Elokim is referred to as “Ours”, because Elokim is a plural noun.
[Because the subject of the word is singular — one G-d, the name Elokim is generally still addressed in the singular, which is why we understand that the use of the plural form on this occasion is to teach us something specific, however the plural form is technically appropriate.]
But why indeed is this particular name of G-d in plural form? And is there a reason why, of all G-d’s names, Elokim is the name of choice in the Torah’s description of the creation of the universe (–no other name of G-d is mentioned in the biblical acocunt of creation)? While we’re at it, why does G-d need multiple names at all?
Meet David Smith. While most of his colleagues at work call him David, his boss calls him Mr. Smith, his friends from high school still call him Dave’o, his children call him Daddy, and his wife has her own affectionate nickname for him.
Whether he is seeing his kids off to school in the morning or being called on by his boss at work, having dinner with his wife in the evening or drinking beer with old friends on the weekend, he is the same person. Who he is remains entirely unchanged. Yet his behavior will naturally vary in different conditions, and he may have different personas that match various circumstances. Hearing someone call “Dave’o” will automatically illicit a particular internal feeling that will be quite different to the one that he experiences when hearing someone call out “Daddy” or “Mr Smith”. Even before his mind consciously registers who it is that is calling him, the different names will automatically call on different elements of his personality.
Now, Back to G-d.
G-d is one. Absolutely infinite and undefinable. How then do creations that are highly limited and clearly defined come about from His being?
“G-d is absolutely complete. Just as He has the power of infinity, so too does He have the ability to limit. For if He is only infinite but lacks the function of limitation, He is lacking in His completeness”
—Avodas HaKodesh (Ancient Kabbalistic text)
G-d is omnipotent and can ‘behave’ in many different ways, and He has different names that are associated with various ‘personas’ or ‘behavioral modes’. The bridging of the gap between G-d’s undefinable infinity and the definable finite universe is enacted by G-d’s divine function of limitation, and G-d’s limiting ‘persona’ that is in place when His function of limitation is in effect, is associated with His name Elokim.
It is G-d’s “Elokim” persona that is responsible for the existence of definable limited entities, and it is these defining limitations that allow for variety and multiplicity. When He was creating the limitations that allow this universe—with all its details—to exist, G-d is referred to with the name Elokim, referring to the G-dly persona that is the source of the bewildering multiplicity and variety with which we are surrounded.
Is it any wonder that the name Elokim is plural?