During the Festival of Sukkot it is a custom (called ushpitzin) to invite famous people from the past to visit our Sukkot, the temporary huts we build to celebrate the harvest festival. This year, I think it would be wonderful to invite Jesus and to clarify with him some implication of, “God created humanity in the Divine image (Genesis 1:26-27).”
If Jesus asked me to begin I would point to one of the most beautiful verses in Scripture that comes from Psalm 8 (verse 6):
ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים
While I love the English translation, “For you have made humanity little lower than the angels,” I think the German translation is closer to the original,
“Du hast ihn wenig niedriger gemacht als Gott, mit Ehre und Herrlichkeit hast du ihn gekrönt,” because it speaks of humanity as just a little less than God.
For our rabbis, the idea that humans are “a little less than God” or “a little lower than the angels” was a commentary on the notion that God created humanity in God’s image.
It does not mean we look like God, as God has no form or shape. It means that we human beings stand midway between the other terrestrial animals and God.
Like the animals we eat, sleep, drink, procreate, and die. But in a way far superior to them and approaching—but not quite reaching—God’s power, we think, communicate and create as no other animal can. (Bereshit Rabbah 14:3)
We are the only creature on earth that can go to the side of a mountain, mine ore from the mountain, turn the ore into iron, the iron into steel and from that steel forge the most delicate of instruments with which to operate on a human heart or brain.
But we are also the only creatures who can go to the mountain, mine ore from it turn the ore into iron and the iron into steel to make bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill or to maim other human beings.
Created in God’s image means that we have awesome power and God wants us to use that power responsibly.
Then I would seek clarification and ask:
Jesus, in your famous Sermon on the Mount, you offer your thoughts on how creatures created in God’s image should act.
Unfortunately some of your instructions have been misunderstood and misinterpreted through the years and have caused great harm to Jewish Christian relations.
I hope together we can set the record straight.
You said (as the Gospel of Matthew recorded your words in Chapter 5), “You have heard, “an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth.” Of course those words are found in Torah, but surely you know that there is not a single case in all 39 books of the Hebrew Bible where mutilation was imposed as a punishment for a crime.
Surely too, you know that your contemporary rabbis interpreted these verses to mean that fitting financial compensation should be set for criminals to pay their victims.
You also said; “You have heard, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.” Had I been there to hear you speak I would have liked to ask, “Where did people hear that? Surely those words are not in our Torah.”
On the contrary: In Exodus 23:4-5 we read “ If you come upon your enemy’s ox or ass wandering in the fields, you must surely return it to him.
“If you see your enemy’s animal teetering under its burden, you must surely help him balance it.”
That certainly does not sound like hate your enemy to me.
A wonderful story illustrates the outlook of Jewish tradition, an outlook I am sure you share:
One year on the Eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest night of the year, the synagogue was packed with worshippers waiting for the service to begin.
But to everyone’s shock, the rabbi was not there.
“Where can he be?” People wondered.
The synagogue leaders sent people out to look for him, and finally they found him. He was leading a frightened calf back into its stall.
“What are you doing, the leaders asked?” Everyone is waiting for you in the synagogue!
I know,” the rabbi answered, but when I saw the animal was lost I had to being it back to its owner.
“But that man does not even like you,” the lay leaders said. “He has always been your enemy.”
“That is true,” the rabbi replied, but our Torah teaches that we must be kind to our enemies.”
Another version of the story has a different ending.
The rabbi is not in the synagogue at the time Yom Kippur Eve services are supposed to begin. The lay leaders looked for him and found him sitting in a nearby house rocking a baby in his arms.
When the leaders ask, what he is doing there instead of at the synagogue where everyone is waiting for him, the rabbi answered, “The child was crying. Comforting a crying child must take precedence even over the most important worship of the year.”
Jesus, I know we both agree that if we truly want to live up to our mandate as creatures created in the Divine Image, we must “love our neighbors,” even our enemies, as ourselves.
We must extend a helping hand even to those we do not like.
And we must dry the tears of crying children–
- Who are homeless,
- Who are hungry,
- And who live in fear of violence.
Yes, created in God’s image means we must do our best to dry the tears of those who cry–
- In our community,
- In our nation,
- And in this world that God has entrusted to our care!
I know that we agree on that!