CEO Message: B’tzelem Elohim
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This is one of my favorite units, B’tzelem Elohim – honoring the image of God in others and ourselves.
There is a sacred charge in the Torah that Judaism’s beautiful belief that we, all of humanity, are created in the image of God. We should ask, “What does it mean to be made in God’s image?” And perhaps the most demanding question, “What are you going to do about it?”
Most biblical scholars agree that in Genesis 1:27, regarding the conceptualizing of God creating male and female in the Divine image should not be interpreted as a physical image. We’re not looking to bring in anthropomorphisms after all, but rather our task seems to be clearly one of a spiritual endeavor.
And yet, one of the most interesting things I have observed as a religious school educator over the years is the surprising staunch reluctance of many Jews to talk about God.
Praising God in an “official” prayer service is a key component and at the heart of the matter of the service itself. (Worship and service are both accurate translations of a Hebrew word for prayer: avodah). However, in the day-to-day appreciation of our holiness and the sanctity of the moment, as a collective people influenced by a deep respect for science and a pluralistic, secular humanism, we fare poorly in the “Praise God” department. I encourage you to “take a time-out for God.” Find that still, quiet voice, your timeless soul, whether through prayer, meditation, or service to others. You do not need to look far to find the eternal. Ask your child about his or her thoughts on God. Children are experts at pointing out the awe and wonder all around. It is the jaded adult who falls into the cynical shutting down of revelling in the mystery of creation.
This year, Shalomlearning has partnered with over 400 teachers in 73 synagogues of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and independent denominations. Each of these communities are learning about B’Tzelem Elohim at the same time in different ways. Yet, it’s not surprising that the 4,000 ShalomLearning students will reach similar conclusions: We all have a spark of God in us, and if we can see (or hear or sense) the holiness and goodness in humanity, we can be better guardians of the earth and of each other. We must protect the downtrodden and the poor; expand our inclusion of those with disabilities; refrain from judging people by their looks or gender identity or sexual orientation; do more “to see” the image of God in everyone. For when you get right down to it and look inside, we are all the same. We are the timeless connection to the holy, to the creative spark, to the Image of God: B’tzelem Elohim.