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Parashat by Rabbi Goldschmidt

Our Parsha opens with Abraham encountering Hashem, however the immediate description is somewhat not what we might have expected[1]:

“He lifted his eyes and behold! Three men were standing before him”.

We are told through our tradition that these were not mere mortals, but ratherAngels[2], each sent on a specificdivine mission, whether Abraham knew or not is the subject of debate within thesources, what is not in debate is what transpired next; he immediately leaps tohis feet (despite healing from his circumcision[3]) to honor and feed his newfound guests.

Abraham, unlike the personalities that have come before us in the narrative of the Torah is able to perceive a fundamental Torah truth and act upon it, by doing so becomes the patriarch not only of Judaism but of various religious traditions and countless sects of monotheism.

What was this truth that he perceived?

In one of the first opening statements of the Torah[4] it says: “And God said, “Let us make Man in Our image, as Our likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

The philosophical question that arises of God having a form that has divided religions and theologies, our tradition is expressed by the Rambam as follows[5]:

“This God is one. He is not two or more, but one, unified in a manner which[surpasses] any unity that is found in the world; i.e., He is not one in the manner of a general category which includes many individual entities, nor one in the way that the body is divided into different portions and dimensions. Rather, He is unified, and there exists no unity similar to His in this world. If there were many gods, they would have body and form, because like entities are separated from each other only through the circumstances associated with body and form.”

Were the Creator to have body and form, He would have limitation and definition, because it is impossible for a body not to be limited. And any entity which itself is limited and defined [possesses] only limited and defined power. Since our God, blessed be His name, possesses unlimited power, as evidenced by the continuous revolution of the sphere, we see that His power is not the power of a body. Since He is not a body, the circumstances associated with bodies that produce division and separation are not relevant to Him. Therefore, it is impossible for Him to be anything other than one.

The knowledge of this concept fulfils a positive commandment, as [implied by the verse][6]: "[Hear, Israel,] Godis our Lord, God is one."

The Rambam goes at lengths over the next few Halakhot to demonstrate that according to Jewish tradition God is Infinite and without any semblance of form, according to this understanding all religions that believe in a divine incarnate or physical God are in error.

Due to this belief various scholars have tackled the immediate issue of the verse in Bereshit differently, how can it be that God has created Man in His image if such an image is a) impossible and b) forbidden?

This is a giant subject itself, from a Mussar[7] approach we can find an answer to our question about Abraham and reveal some light on the subject:

God is invisible, his presence is not often experienced directly – the majority of us are not prophets and lack credible experiences in this area. For that reason, God is created in the image of Mankind; rather than the image of a symbol or some kind of philosophical statement, we are able to serve God through the mechanism of serving each other – this is what defined the difference of Abraham and all those who came before him. The previous descriptions of personalities are all those who ultimately fail the test given to them by God, Adam eats of the fruit, Cain kills his brother Abel, the generation of the flood attempt to other-throw God, Noach saves himself but still descends into alcoholism and despair at the world having been destroyed.

More than simply failing the test given to them, they refuse to accept responsibility[8] for their actions – Adam blames his wife, Cain is not responsible for his brother, Noach has little to no effect on his generation other than his immediate family.

Avraham stands out as a person who takes responsibility for his world, his tent[9] was open on all four sides to invite guests, to join together in meals – to join others in worship God, he is a person who goes out of his way for strangers and to look after their needs, even during his time of recovery.

As children of Abraham, our immediate concern is for those around us, to look after their physical and spiritual needs and draw them to worship of their creator – because all human beings are created in the divine image, the way to worship our Creator is to be aware and to care about those around us – to practice acts of kindness and spirituality in a finite and physical world.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©

[1]Bereshit/Genesis: 18:2 [2]Bereshit Rabbah: 48 [3]Talmud Sotah: 14a [4]Bereshit/Genesis:1:26 [5]Mishnah Torah: Yesodei HaTorah: 1:7-8 [6]Devarim/Deuteronomy: 6:4 [7]Virtue-based ethics [8] An idea I first discussed with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks [9]Midrash Tehillim/psalms 110 & Midrash Rabbah 48:9

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