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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Scripture describes the human being as created in the image of G-d [this verse], but also as “dust” (see, e.g. Genesis 3:9, Genesis 18:27; Job 42:6; Psalms 103:14).  One the one hand, “each person is obliged to say: The world was created for my sake” Sanhedrin 37a, and, on the other hand, “if a person becomes too proud, he should be reminded that the gnats preceded him in the order of creation” Sanhedrin 38a.  The human being is G-d’s partner in the work of creation Shabbat 10a, as well as a creature derived from a fetid drop of semen who ends up in a place of worms and maggots. Pirkei Avot 3:1. Human beings share qualities both with the angels and animals. Haggai 16a; Genesis Rabbah 8:11, 14:3.  The Jewish view of human nature hovers between such sets of polar opposites: dust and divinity, animal and angel, creature and creator. SHER20C 151
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

The Talmudic rabbis taught that G-d not only reveals the Torah, but that G-d also observes the commandments: “A human king issues a decree. The king may then choose to obey it; or the king may choose to have only others obey it.  Not so the Holy One. When G-d issues a decree, G-d is the first to obey it. As it is stated, ‘And they shall observe my observances… I am the Lord’ Leviticus 22:9. I [G-d] am the first to obey the commandments of the Torah” Palestinian Talmud, Yebamot, chap 4. Sec 12. Yet, when creating human beings, G-d did not obey the commandments of the Torah.  Though Scripture forbids making an image of G-d, when G-d created human being, G-d made an image of G-d.  Of all of G-d’s creatures, only the human creature is described by Scripture as having been created “in the image and likeness of G-d” [this verse; see also Genesis 5:1, 9:6]  As Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said, “A procession of angels pass before a human being wherever he or she goes, proclaiming – Make way for the image of G-d” Deuteronomy Rabbah, chap 4, sec 4; see also Midrash Tehillim, chap 17, sec. 8, 66a.  Rabbi Akiva taught that not only have human beings been created in the divine image but that divine grace allows them to become aware of it: “Beloved are human beings for they were created in the [divine] image. Even more beloved are they, because they can be aware of having been created in the [divine] image. As it is written, ‘For in the image of G-d, G-d made human beings’ Genesis 9:6Palestinian Talmud, chap 3, sec 14.  Jewish ethics focuses upon how human beings can live out their lives in the awareness of their having been created in the image and likeness of G-d. SHER20C 1
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GENESIS — 1:26 image

Throughout classical Jewish literature, there is a variety of interpretations of the term “image of G-d” that employs ontological analogies. For example, Maimonides considers G-d to be an essentially intellectual being.  For him, the attribute that human beings share with G-d is the intellect, the rational faculty.  As Maimonides states in the opening chapter of his philosophical magnum opus, The Guide of the Perplexed, (bk. 1, chap 2), “It is on account of this intellectual apprehension that is said of man, ‘In the image of G-d, G-d created human beings'” [this verse]. Maimonides’ interpretation became commonplace in subsequent Jewish philosophical literature. [See, e.g., Altmann 1968, 254] For Maimonides, ethical behavior requires the employment of the intellect.  A function of the intellect is making distinction, and ethical behavior presumes the ability to make distinctions between truth and falsehood, good and bad actions. (bk 1. Chap 2, 24-25).  SHER20C 3
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GENESIS — 1:28 fruitful

Jewish law and ethics would not consider the cloning of human beings to be forbidden.  As Elliot Dorff has put it, “human cloning should be regulated, not banned” (1997, 6; 1999, 322). Indeed, whereas most non-Jewish religious ethicists have consistently opposed the ethical propriety of cloning human beings, Jewish ethicists, particularly those from the more traditional camps, have consistently maintained that there is no a priori prohibition in Jewish law against cloning humans, and that with certain controls, cloning of human beings is permissible according to Jewish law [citations omitted].  While the cloning of human beings does not appear to be prohibited, by Jewish law, neither is it obligatory (hovah) in most cases. Even an individual who would have no other way of engendering a child but through cloning is not obliged to do so.  Like any other commandment, the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” [this verse] (obligatory according to Jewish law only upon men), can only be expected to be fulfilled if one has the normal capacity to do so.  A person is not obliged to fulfill a commandment that exceeds his or her biological abilities.  As J. D. Bleich has written summarizing Jewish law’s attitude toward the use of reproductive biotechnological methods: “Although Halakhah may demand employment of extraordinary and heroic measures in prolonging life, with regard to the generation of life it requires only that which is ordinary, normal and natural.  However, so long as the methods employed in assisted procreation do not entail transgression of halakhic structures such methods are discretionary and permissible” (1998, 147). SHER20C 121
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

As a creation of the divine in the image of G-d, the human body is a source of wonder, a manifestation of divine wisdom, an opportunity for profound gratitude. The following blessing, recorded in the Talmud, was later included in the liturgy Jews recite each day: “Blessed is G-d who created human beings with wisdom, and created in each of them many orifices and many cavities.  It is fully known before the throne of Your glory that if one of them should be [improperly] opened or one of them closed, it would be impossible for one to stand before You … [Blessed are You] who heals all flesh and who performs wonders” Berachot 60b. This blessing is to be recited after going to the bathroom.  According to the commentaries to this text, the phrase “who heals all flesh” means that normal excretory function is a product of divine grace, that “evacuation is a healing for the entire body.” I know of no comparable blessing recited on a comparable occasion in any other religious tradition.  Here one encounters what the novelist George Eliot called Judaism’s “reverence for the human body, which lifts the needs of the animal life into religion.” To suggest that the human body or its natural functions are repulsive by nature is considered an affront to G-d’s image and to divine wisdom.  In themselves, bodily organs and functions are beautiful and good.  Only when abused or misused do then become ugly and repulsive. According to the medieval ethical treatise The Holy Letter: “’G-d saw everything He had made and behold it was very good’ [this verse]. … Nothing in the human organs are created flawed or ugly.  Everything is related with divine wisdom and is therefore complete, exalted, good and pleasant.  When one sins, ugliness becomes attached to these matters.” (1976, 45, 48). Through the performance of sacred deeds, the body, which is good by nature, becomes holy by actions.  According to Judah Loew, when an individual acts properly, one’s body becomes sacred, expressing the image of G-d, but when one does not act properly, one’s body is indistinguishable from that of any other animal Netivot Olom, sec. “Netiv Koah ha-Yetzer,” 2:130   SHER20C 14-5
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

Jewish thought perceives not only human existence, but all of creation as being characterized by polarity.  …. Each entity depends upon and derives meaning from its polar counterpart.  Without down, there cannot be up. Without evil, there could not be good.  As one medieval text put is, “G-d made each thing and its opposite … All things cleave to one another, the pure and the impure.  There is no purity except through impurity” (Midrash Temurah in Agadat Bereshit 1876, 49)  According to the late-nineteenth-century Hasidic master Zadok of Lublin, even a specific halakhic decision implies the validity of its opposite (1903, 9b).  The presence of such interdependent yet polar opposites also characterizes the realm of the human heart.  As the Zohar states, “Good issues from evil, and compassion issues from justice, and all are intertwined, the good inclination and the evil inclination, right and left … all depends upon one another ... otherwise, the world could not exist for even an instant” (1883, 3:79b).  In the human heart, described by the Talmudic rabbis as the source of reason and emotion, G-d implants both the good inclination (yetser ha-tov) and the evil inclination (yetser ha-ra) (see, e.g., Schechter 1909, 255). How a person utilizes these inclinations determines the moral quality of his or her behavior.  Not only the good inclination, but the evil inclination as well is candidly described by the talmudic rabbis as having been created by G-d (see, e.g. Berachot, 61a, Genesis Rabbah, chap. 14:4). In itself, the evil inclination (yetzer ha-ra) is not necessarily evil.  However, it becomes evil when it is misused.  Otherwise, paradoxically, the evil inclination is considered good.  For example, commenting on [this verse], a midrash observes that while the good inclination is good, the evil inclination can be considered very good, because without it human beings would neither build a house, nor marry, nor beget children, nor engage in commence (see Genesis Rabbah, chap. 9, sec. 7). In other words, without the basic human drives and ambitions engendered by the evil inclination the perpetuation of human civilization would become endangered (see, e.g., Rashi to Sanhedrin 107b). The stronger a person’s evil inclination, the greater the individual’s potential for greatness.  As the Talmud says, “the greater the person, the greater their evil inclination” Sukkot 52a.  The evil inclination is not only responsible for sustaining human civilization, but according to Judah Loew it is the catalyst for making manifest the divine image in which human beings are created (see, e.g. Jacobson 1987, 102-36).  Paradoxically, through sinning, Adam demonstrates that human beings are G-dlike in that they are morally independent beings.  Yet, by making manifest the quality of moral volition that human beings share with G-d, human beings simultaneously alienate themselves from G-d through sin.  The human task then becomes reconciliation with G-d through the performance of the commandments, the cultivation of the moral virtues, and repentance. (see, e.g. Weiss 1969, 213-30, 347-50; c.f., Guide of the Perplexed, bk. 1, ch 2, 24-25).    SHER20C 151-2
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GENESIS — 2:24 leaves

When to Honor Parents.  There are occasions when filial responsibility may temporarily be put aside in the name of a higher duty or for the purpose of fulfilling a more immediate obligation.  One such occasion is when filial duty conflicts with the responsibility one owes to one’s own wife and children.  In this regard, the Talmud quotes a popular contemporary proverb, “A parent’s love is for his child; his child’s love is for his own children” Sota, 49a. While marriage does not free an individual from filial duty, it does serve to supplant filial love with the love of a spouse.  In his commentary on [this verse], Nahmanides wrote, [Scripture] states that the female is the bone of the bone and the flesh of the flesh of the male … His desire is for her to be with him always, as it was implanted in human nature, beginning with Adam for all subsequent generations, for males to cleave to their wives, to leave their parents, and to see themselves as one flesh with their wives … Here [we see that] a man leaves the nearness of his parents and his relatives, and sees that his wife is closer to him than are they.  In certain cases not only could the love of parents be superseded by love for a spouse but the obligation of filial duty could be displaced as well.  For example, though men and women are equally obligated to honor their parents, the Talmud makes provision for an exception in instances in which filial duty causes tension in the marriage (Kiddushin 30b, Mishneh Torah-Hilkhot Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance), chap. 13, secs. 12-14.  … It is to be hoped that marriage can create a new family without causing tensions with one’s parents. However, if the formation of a new family does precipitate conflict, one may limit, but not deny, one’s filial responsibilities.  SHER20C
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GENESIS — 3:19 dust

Jewish tradition confronts rather than avoids the inevitability or the reality of death. At the very beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, we are told [this verse]. Ecclesiastes (3:1-2) forthrightly states, “A season is set for everything a time for every experience under heaven: a time for being born, and, a time for dying.” Ecclesiastes (7:2) further counsels that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting: for that [i.e. death] is the end of every person, and the living one should take it to heart.  The awareness of human finitude found in the Hebrew Scriptures is amplified in rabbinic literature.  For example, the Talmud recounts that “when Rabbi Jonathan finished the Book of Job, he used to say: the end of man is to die, and the end of a beast is to be slaughtered, and all are doomed to death” Berachot 17a. A verse in Psalms (144:4) reads, “One’s days are like a passing shadow.” On this verse, a midrash comments: “What kind of shadow? If life is like a shadow cast by a wall, it endures … Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Aha: Life is like a bird that flies past, and its shadow flies past with it.  But Samuel said: Life is like the shadow of a bee that has no substance at all” Ecclesiastes Rabbah, Chap. 1, sec. 1.  While rejecting an escapist attitude toward death, and while advocating a frank confrontation with death and dying, Jewish tradition considers the encounter with human mortality to be an invitation neither to morbidity nor to nihilism.  The attitude satirized by the prophet Isaiah (22:13), “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” finds no resonance in Jewish thought.  Rather, the candid awareness of human mortality is treated by Jewish religious literature as an opportunity to confront the quest for and the creation of human purpose and meaning.  Since life is a blind date with an uncertain future, each moment is considered a summons to begin or to continue the project of creating the ultimate work of art-one’s own existence.  Commenting on Hillel’s famous statement, “If not now, when? (Palestinian Talmud, chap. 1, sec. 14), a medieval Jewish writer observed that Hillel did not say, “If not today, when? But “If not now, when?” because “even today is in doubt regarding whether one will survive or not for at any instant one can die.” Consequently, “one cannot wait even a day or two to exert oneself in the pursuit of human [moral] fulfillment” (Gerondi 1971, 115). A candid confrontation with death can compel one to examine and improve the moral quality of life.   For example, “Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death. His disciples asked him: Does then one know on what day he will die? Then all the more reason to repent today, he replied, lest he die tomorrow” Shabbat, 153a.  Another text advises: “One should always incite the good inclination to fight against the evil inclination. … If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him study the Torah. … If he subdues it, well and good. If not, let him recite the Shema. … If he subdues it, well and good.  If not, let him remind himself on the day of death” Berachot 5a. SHER20C 36-8
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GENESIS — 4:7 master

Because free will is given, sin is inevitable, and repentance is available.  “There is no person who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36).  However, as G-d informs Cain, “Sin couches at the door … yet you can be its master” [this verse].  According to a rabbinic legend, “When Cain went forth [after killing Abel], Adam met him and asked: What happened at your trial [for killing Abel]? Cain answered: I repented and was pardoned. When Adam heard this he slapped himself on the face, and said to Cain: So great is the power of repentance, and I did not know it! Leviticus Rabbah, chap. 10, sec. 5.  As Maimonides writes, were an individual to believe that there were no remedy for sin, “he would persist in his error and sometimes perhaps disobey even more because of the fact that no stratagem remains at his disposal.  If, however, he believes in repentance, he can correct himself and return to a better and more perfect state than the one he was in before he sinned” Genesis Rabbah, bk. 3, ch. 36, 540). SHER20C 153-4
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GENESIS — 5:1 generations

In [this and subsequent verses] we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. – When G-d created man, G-d made him in the likeness of G-d; male and female G-d created them. And when they were created, G-d blessed them and called them ‘Adam.’ – When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.”  From this passage it would appear that that Adam was created in the image and likeness of G-d, whereas Adam’s progeny are created in the image and likeness of Adam.  Indeed, this view is found in the Mishnah: “If a person strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every human being in the stamp of the first human being [i.e., Adam], and not one resembles another” Mishnah, Sanhedrin, chap. 4, sec. 5.  Consequently, Adam’s nature has direct relevance to our understanding of human nature.  In a number of texts, Adam is described as a Golem.  In the Gemara’s explication of the just cited mishanic text, an “hour-by-hour” account of G-d’s creation of Adam on the six day of creation is provided [Sanhedrin 38b]. … In various midrashic variants of this text, the sequence is reported differently [Leviticus Rabbah, chap 29, sec. 1; see textual variants, e.g. Midrash Tehillim, chap. 92 sec. 3, 202; see also Ginzberg 1955, 5:79]  … In this midrashic version unlike the Talmudic version, the Golem already has a human form—Adam’s form. The Golem is not a formless mass, but a manikin; human in shape but not in essence.  Thus, this text describes the state of “Golem” as soulless, but with human form.  The term Golem means “unformed mass.” A form of the world Golem appears only once in the Bible (Psalms 139:16): “Your eyes saw my unformed mass [galmi], it was all recorded in Your book. The following midrash interprets this verse as Adam saying to G-d: Your eyes saw my Golem, that is G-d saw Adam as a Golem: [Genesis Rabbah, chap 24, sec. 2; cf. Exodus Rabbah, chap. 40, sec 3, Mishrash Tehillim, ch. 139, sec. 6, 265b).  This midrash tells us that humans are not only the descendants of Adam but of a Golem as well.  Perhaps, as the biblical verse indicates (Ps. 139:16), G-d saw Adam as Golem.  In other words, G-d sees Adam—the human being—as essentially a Golem, who becomes human only when realizing his or her potential, which is symbolized in the text as the potential offspring of Adam-Golem.  Otherwise, why would G-d show Adam his potential while still in golemic form rather than in his completed form?  The moral challenge to each human being is to emerge from the golemic state to attain fulfilled human status as a being in the image of G-d.  The task is to evolve the self from the primitive status of Golem to the actualized human status of intellectual discernment and moral rectitude (see, e.g., Maimonides Commentary on the Mishnah on Pirkei Avot chap. 5, sec. 6).  As Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk said, “Judah Loew created a Golem, and this was a great wonder. But how much more wonderful it is to transform a person of flesh and blood into a Hasid [a pious person]?” (see Buber 1948, 2:285; Idel 1990, 281). SHER20C 62-3
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