Doesn’t a religious life, despite the effort and sacrifices required by the mitzvot, at least guarantee us peace of mind?
Among the many foundational themes in the opening parsha of the Torah, Bereshit, is a strong statement that life in this world will include hard choices that challenge our decision making and leave us with lingering complications.
The Torah tells us that towards the end of the sixth day of creation, God stated: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Bereshit 1:26). Rashi and other commentators teach us that God fully understood that the use of this phrase, Let us make man, in our image, could very easily be misunderstood and used by heretics as evidence of polytheism or a less than fully omnipotent deity. Yet God chose to use the phrase anyway because He saw the overriding importance of demonstrating Derech Eretz (decency) – to teach us that even if one participant in a particular situation far outranks the others, and is considering making a change to that setting, it is still incumbent on the most powerful one to consult with the others present before making the change.
By using this phrase, despite the inherent risks of misinterpretation, God shows us that a central fact of life is that we are often called to make choices that are not simple, easy, or risk free. We must evaluate our options in these times and choose the course that offers the most goodness and the least detriment. Yet we should never delude ourselves into thinking that our ‘good’ choices carry no risk or downside.
As God Himself indicates, by taking a significant theological risk in using this phrase in order to model humility, there is always a greater good. But it often involves trade-offs and other significant costs.
This Dvar Torah was adapted by Harry Glazer from the chapter “Redeeming Ourselves: Lessons from the Mothers,” pages 42-43, in Rabbi Francis Nataf’s book Redeeming Relevance In the Book of Genesis: Explorations in Text and Meaning (Urim Publications, Jerusalem, 2006).
23 Elul 5774