There is a very well-known and much-discussed question regarding the Torah’s description of the creation of man. In Breisheet 1:3, we read:
…וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתו
(“And God created man in His image; in the image of God, He created him…”)
The obvious question is that if Hashem is not corporeal (having no physical manifestation), then how does He create man in “His image“? G-d is spirit. G-d is not physical. In what way does He create man in “His image”?
The question is not an original question. And, yes, there are numerous answers to this question. I wish to add my voice to the answers that have been offered for centuries.
If we look at the Hebrew word for “in the image” we see it is בצלם. This word can be broken down into two parts: בצל, meaning “in the shadow,” and the letter מ. The significance of this is striking.
Assume you are standing outside on a bright, sunny day, and the sun is behind you. When you observe the ground in front of you, you will see a shadow of yourself. That shadow is not YOU but is a replica of you. It moves, as you move; bends, as you bend, and so on.
When G-d created man in His image, and the word ” בצל” is used, it may indeed indicate to us that, just as our own shadow represents US, so too does man represent Hashem in this world. As He “moves,” we move. Or, in the reverse (as the Gemara tells us), we are to emulate G-d: מה הוא רחום אף אתה רחום. Just as He is merciful, so to we are to be merciful. We “shadow” G-d, when we act in His ways.
And what of the letter מ? What is the significance of that letter following the word בצל? While there is a debate as to when the holy Neshama (soul) enters a fetus, it appears that the majority agree that it enters the fetus on the fortieth day from conception. Meaning, the חלק אלוה ממעל (a holy “part” of Hashem) enters into the fetus on its fortieth day. The letter “MEM” has a numerical value of forty.
Now, when we combine these two parts of the word בצל-ם we arrive a the following idea: We are created to be the shadow of G-d on this Earth. In addition, He invests us with that on the 40th day after conception (as symbolized by the מ). This number 40 appears dozens of times throughout Judaism as a number that is connected to “creation” and “re-creation.”
Here are a few ways that the number 40 represents birth, rebirth or renewal:
- Moshe was on Har Sinai for 40 days and came down with the luchot. The Jews arrived at Har Sinai as a nation of Egyptian slaves, but after 40 days they were transformed into G-d’s nation.
- Noah–the rain poured for 40 days, and submerged the world in water. Just as a person leaves a mikveh (filled with 40 se’ah of water) pure, so too when the waters of the flood subsided, the world was purified and was re-born.
- According to the Talmud, it takes 40 days for an embryo to form.
- There are 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur–a time of individual and national renewal and rebirth.
While there are numerous other examples, these shall suffice for our discussion. Hashem creates Adam–and all of us–as His SHADOW…to be His shadow in this world. We are invested with that spirit of Hashem after our 40th day from conception. Hence, the Torah’s statement that we are created בצלם– in other words: בצל ‘מ
May each of us be zoche (merit) to “shadow” G-d properly in this world and always find ways to re-create ourselves and better our service of Hashem.