Torah Portion: Va’era
Book of Exodus
January 27, 2017
One of the tenets of Judaism is a strong abhorrence to idol worship in any form. For this reason most, if not all, synagogues avoid putting graven, painted, or photographed images in their sanctuaries. The notion is God’s presence is not limited to a canvas or statue. God’s ultimate being is beyond understanding. The One God’s presence is felt, not photographed. Then how does one explain the following verse from the Book of Exodus?
“The Lord replied to Moses, “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet.” (Exo. 7:1)
In preparation for Moses encounter with Pharaoh, God is empowering him to go before Pharaoh-not just as anyone, but as God him/herself. Many biblical commentators explain that Moses was really just an agent of God, not God him/herself. However, the Hebrew text makes it clear Moses is to appear “as a God” before Pharaoh.
This passage appears to be a continuation of the Jewish theology taught in the Book of Genesis. In the creation story it is written, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) The ancient rabbis in the Talmud explain this verse to mean, “A human king strikes coins in his image and every one of them is identical. God creates every person with the die of the first human being [i.e., in the divine image], and each one is unique.” The 2nd chapter of Genesis goes on to describe how God created humankind by “[blowing] into his nostrils the breath of life.” This “breath of life”, possessed by every human, is the soul, the Godliness within each of us. Moses will appear before Pharaoh as Moses, not God. However, Pharaoh will come to recognize the Godliness within Moses, his very essence giving display to the divine image.
The late theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel was skeptical of Judaism’s strong position against the display of God’s image. Rabbi Brad Artson notes, “[Heschel] would say, if you look around during a Sabbath service, you will see that God’s image fills each occupied seat. The assembled worshipers are themselves images of God!
Bringing the values, morals, and ethics of God into this world is the result of bringing Godliness into our individual lives; displaying God’s image in what we do and what we say. A better world is as close as the person next to us!
Rabbi Howard Siegel