Gadlus Ha’adam, the greatness of mankind, is realized through our ability to choose between good and evil in a deep intellectual fashion, as well as being able to express it with our power of speech. The potential to be able to reach great heights in physical prowess as well as in the spiritual realm in an artistic and creative manner is what gives us the impetus to strive to do good and make this world a better place.
The foundation of man’s greatness is encapsulated in this week’s Torah portion of Breishis, when he was created:
|And G-D created man in His image; in the image of G-D He created him; male and female He created them.||כזוַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים | אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם:|
It is a well-known premise in Slobodka Mussar that through Gadlus Ha’adam, realizing the great potential inside each and every human being, the fact that we are created in the image of G-D, b’tzelem Elokim, we are given a sense of responsibility to emulate Him, to do what is right in the world, and to strive for character perfection.
However, there is another reason, besides the sense of responsibility, why Hashem created us in His image, and it is another motivator for us to strive for greatness and perfection. This reason is provided by the Sforno in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah.
The Sforno says that the Torah first tells us that the Blessed One created man in His image, as His likeness in order to choose to emulate His Creator as much as possible. For in this way he will perfect himself and his actions will be complete and honorable more than any other, just like what’s befitting to Him Who Is Blessed, who is exulted above everything else. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that the fact that we were created in G-D’s image doesn’t just give us a sense of responsibility according to the Sforno; it is more than that. Once we have been endowed with a part of His very being and essence, in a sense, it is now a part of our genetic makeup, available to tap into and develop. Being that The Image of G-D is in our system, or genetic makeup, not as a physical DNA but in our soul, we now have the inkling to emulate the One who gave it to us. Just as a child is born with certain traits from his physical parents which are passed on to him and he learns to live with them and develop them for good or for bad, and because he has these similar genes to his parents therefore many times he has this drive to learn from them and to emulate them. They are his fatherly and motherly figures which many times he looks up to in order to learn from, so to Hashem created us in His Image so that we will turn to Hashem as a fatherly figure and emulate Him as best as possible.
Unlike physical parents who might have flaws and shortcomings, Hashem, however, is all good, all knowledgeable, all powerful, and all perfect. There is nothing bad that can come out of striving to emulate Him and learning from His ways. This means that this is worthwhile to do and so the means which help us to follow Hashem is His Torah which guides us in what is right and wrong.
We are unlike animals or plants and other physical but inanimate objects, who are programmed to do whatever Hashem decides for them to do. Neither are we like the angels who are pure spiritual beings, that have a natural awe of Hashem which causes them never to err. We are potentially better than both since we are endowed with the Tzelem Elokim, with a Divine soul. We just must realize and tap into this part of ourselves, emulate our Father In Heaven, for if and when we do then then our greatness shines, and that is true Gadlus Ha’adam!