Monday, September 27, 2010

Parsha Bereshit: The Entitlement Mentality and the Meaning of "Being Created in His Image"

People whose religious leanings are more inclined to the Left, whether they be Jewish or Christian, love to invoke the phrase "man is created in His image" about as often as they do "love your neighbor as your love yourself."  For the religiously liberal individual, being created "in His image" is a nice, feel-good way of telling a certain individual that he is innately good.

Allow me to express my skepticism that being "created in His image" simply means "being a Homo Sapien."  For starters, what do we do with all of the Hannibal Lecters, Hitlers, and the myriad of morally indefensible individuals that have existed throughout time?  I hope to touch upon this thought in a moment. 

But let us take a look at the two major religions that use this verse: Christianity and Judaism.  Christianity does not believe that man is innately good.  Au contraire!  Christians believe that Original Sin renders an individual innately evil, and that the only salvation for man is through Jesus Christ.  To best summarize Jewish thought on this topic, Judaism is skeptical about man's nature, but nevertheless that man possesses the potential to do good.

If neither Judaism nor Christianity advocates the innate goodness of man, then where is its origin?  Although many philosophers and theologians have debated the nature of man, the individual responsible for shaping this modern view is secular philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau believed that man's nature was innately good, and that it was society that corrupted the individual.  This philosophical belief has been so piquant that it became a foundation of the modern-day Left.  And voilà, another example of how secular liberalism has become the religion for many on the Left.

But if "being created in His image" is not the equivalent of a spiritual welfare check, then what does it mean?  I am truly happy that I read Rabbi Marc Angel's D'var Torah this morning because it helped provide me an important insight to this weighty question.  As Rabbi Angel succinctly puts it:

Perhaps the Torah is teaching us an ideal concept about human potential. G-d created the first human beings, Adam and Eve, in "His image", as a lesson to subsequent human beings that they, too, can find this "image" within themselves. If they fully develop their human capacities, they will discover the "image of G-d" within themselves. But this "image" is not an automatic birthright: it has to be earned. It exists in potential, and it is our task to realize that potential (own emphasis added). Human beings who do not nourish the "image of G-d" within themselves thereby dehumanize themselves, and deprive themselves of their spiritual potential.

This adds a level of spiritual meaning to what I had already perceived of what it meant to be "created in His image."  To summarize my thoughts back in May on the topic, I had found that "being created in His image" either meant the endowment of free will in moral issues or the divinely given intellectual capacities that humans possess.  Rabbi Angel's commentary links these two Jewish interpretations together: both involve the potential that the human has.

The idea of potential addresses the more nefarious individual.  As Rabbi Angels states, "murderers and terrorists and hate-mongers are examples of people who have, in a profound sense, forfeited their 'image of G-d.' When the Torah teaches that humans were created in G-d's 'image,' this should be seen as a challenge and opportunity, not as an automatic gift that requires no further action on our part."  What Angel is saying is that there are certain individuals that are so spiritually off the deep end that they have stinted any potential for truly "being in His image."

I will conclude with these thoughts.  If I can't stand when a certain individual receives a handout from the government, do you honestly think I would advocate such a view in the spiritual realm?  Being good is not derived from passivity.  It is the culmination of actively pursuing good deeds.  G-d created us with faults, but He also created us with the ability to improve upon ourselves.  That is the purpose of life: to climb the ladder of spirituality to raise ourselves closer and closer to G-dliness.  It is a lifetime goal that needs constant pursuit.  By working on our own "image of G-d," we can refine ourselves intellectually, morally, and spiritually, which will ultimately translate into the prevailing refinement of society.

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