Illuminating advice

Illuminating advice

Bereshit | Genesis 1:1-6:8

In the fourth grade, we were studying a verse in this week’s parsha; after describing the Almighty’s creation of the animal world, the Torah says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

But why does the Lord use the plural? Shouldn’t He have said, “Let Me make man in My image, after My likeness.”? Dare we conclude that God had a partner, perhaps several, in creating the human race?

Although we were much too young to be troubled by these questions, others in the course of history were profoundly so.

The Talmud (Megillah 9a) records that in ancient times, King Ptolemy gathered 72 Jewish elders and ordered them to translate the Torah. Each rendered the passage: “I will make man in My image, after My likeness.” By altering the text, they assured that Ptolemy could never cite the Torah to assert his polytheistic theology. 

In Sanhedrin 38b, we learn that the Sadducees, who were thoroughly familiar with the original, did conclude that more than one god created man. Although in verse 27 the Torah “self-corrects” and reverts to the singular to preclude misinterpretations, the Sadducees were apparently unimpressed.

Our teacher paraphrased Rashi’s answer: “Despite the risk that the plural form would be misinterpreted by nonbelievers, Scripture did not refrain from sharing practical common sense and prescribing a dose of humility. The Supreme Being consulted with His heavenly court before embarking upon an act as crucial as the creation of mankind: No matter how lofty one’s position in life, he must consult with others, even ‘lesser’ others. Don’t be blinded by ego. Others have much to offer you as you go about making your life’s decisions. Their light may illuminate your darkness.”

Over the years, I discovered numerous other passages conveying that message.

One of Rabbi Hanina bar Papa teaching’s (Bava Batra 75b) has prophetic implications for an urgent contemporary issue:

“The Holy One, Blessed be He, sought to confine the area of Jerusalem…. But the ministering angels objected: ‘Master of the Universe, you created so many cities in Your world for which You set limits to neither length nor breadth. Yet for Jerusalem, which contains Your Name and Your Holy Temple, and where the righteous are to be found, for her You set limits?’ The Lord immediately relented: ‘Run to that young man and tell him: Jerusalem shall be peopled as a city without walls, so many shall be the men and cattle it contains.’” (Zechariah 2:6-8)

The Almighty, as it were, models for us the essential importance of listening to others.

The great 19th-century ethicist Rabbi Israel Salanter insists that one who neglects to consult others is unqualified to be a leader:

“He who stubbornly maintains his original position without seeking the advice of others is prohibited from becoming a rabbi or rabbinical judge. If he clings to his original position and does not consider the possibility that he is in error, he is doubly negligent; not only has he stubbornly adhered to faulty reasoning, he has misled those who follow his teachings and rulings.”

And here is King Solomon: “A wise man is strength;/ A knowledgeable man exerts power;/ For by stratagems you wage war,/ And victory comes with many advisers.” (Proverbs 24:5-6)

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