Every culture, every religion, every civilization has its own “creation story.” Ever since there have been human beings on the earth, we have wrestled with the fundamental questions of life, struggled to come up with a compelling narrative that will explain adequately to ourselves and our children where the world itself came from and what are the essential principles upon which our world stands.
For the Jewish civilization, our most sacred text, the Torah, begins with just such a creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” we being and from the very first sentence we establish that the world in which we live is the result not of an accidental coming together of matter, but of the conscious creative power of the very source of holiness itself.
Having “God” as the creator of our world is our way of infusing the entire universe with a sense of divine purpose. It is our challenge to the apparent randomness of life, a bold statement that there is an underlying cohesion, design and sacred plan to the world.
The rabbis in the Midrash taught that just as it is impossible to imagine a coat without assuming a weaver or a table without presuming a carpenter, so, too, it is impossible to imagine the earth without assuming a creator – which is that power we God.
But the Jewish story of creation goes far beyond merely establishing the idea that a divine force created the world. More importantly even than the idea that God created the heaven and earth, is the underlying commitment to ethical and spiritual values as the raison d’être for God’s creation of human beings.
In Chapter 1, verse 26-27 we are introduced for the first time to the single most important idea in the Torah. “And God said, ‘Let us make the human being in our image, after our likeness…. and God created the human being in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.’”
What is most remarkable about this, one of the oldest passages in the entire Torah going back thousands of years of recorded time, is perhaps as much what it doesn’t say as for what it does. For it doesn’t say “God created the human being in God’s image, except….” There are no exceptions in the Torah. All human beings are included in this sweeping statement that the nature of the human species is to be a reflection of God.
In this most difficult of times, when the rise of racial profiling is inevitable, when our nerves are on edge and it is so easy to allow ourselves to become fearful of others whose skin is darker or religion is different, let us learn the lesson of this week’s portion well. It doesn’t teach that God created human beings in the divine image except Muslims, or Afghans, or Pakistanis, or Iraqis, or blacks, or gays, or women, or people who speak Arabic.
In the most remarkable and life transforming assertion in all of sacred literature, the Torah simple declares that all human beings are created in the image of God. Period.
That is why we Jews above all others must have the sensitivity to reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters in friendship and a search for understanding. It is our challenge to embrace openness and create a covenant of common values and dreams that is a true reflection of the pluralistic values that underlie Judaism and the American religious community. Then we will have truly celebrated the opening spiritual challenge of Genesis in the Torah.