Rabbinic Answers to the First Two Questions

1. Ramban (1190-1270): The “us” referred to is the earth, since God actually made man out of the dust of the earth, He consulted the earth first. The “in our image” also refers to the fact that although man was created in the image of God, he also resembles the earth: His soul is in the image of God, and is immortal like God, whereas his body is mortal and has similarities to the earth from which it was born and to which it returns.

2. According to Rashi (1040-1105): God consulted with the angels, in order to teach us, the reader, the importance of consulting with others – and specifically, the importance for those in power to consult with those not in positions of power. According to Rashi, this teaches the values of “respect and modesty, that the big should ask permission from the small”. Rashi says that God even choose to risk giving the heretics room to argue for polytheism – since “us” is used – because teaching these values was so important – though then Rashi points out that the Bible is clearly to say “He created”, and not they, because only God himself did the creating.

The importance of consulting others is reflected in the process of Jewish Law: The Talmud, one of Jewish law’s foundational texts, is comprised of rabbinic debates – even the rabbi whose opinion was ultimately not codified as Jewish law is included in the Talmudic records, on the grounds that there are “70 faces to the Torah”, and thus every opinion is valid. The importance of debate can be seen from the story of Rabbi Eliezer: In the story, there is a debate between the rabbis and Rabbi Eliezer. The rabbis win, even though technically Rabbi Eliezer has the correct opinion, and even gets a voice from Heaven to say so. The rabbis rebuke God, telling them He gave power to the rabbis to decide Jewish law through debates, and the rabbis won this one, so God has no right to meddle. God joyfully replies “My sons have defeated me”, and the rabbis win the day. The “objective” truth no longer matters; what matters is the opinion of the rabbinic majority. This is because Judaism has taken the power to legislate Jewish law and invested it in people – and this power is manifested through debates and a diversity of opinion.

As a matter of fact, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book “The Dignity of Difference”, explains the story of the Tower of Babel as an attempt by the people of the story, who have “one language and a common speech”, to “impose an artifical unity on divinely created diversity”. (51, 52) As Sasks explains, “God, the creator of humanity, having made a covenant with all humanity, then turns to one people and commands it to be different, teaching mankind to make space for difference. God may at times be found in the human other, the one not like us. Bibilical monotheism is not the idea that there is on God and therefore one gateway to His presence. To the contrary, it is the idea that the unity of God is to be found in the diversity of creation.”

Thus, God’s consultation – whether it is with the earth or with the angels – is a way of showing us, the reader, the importance of consulting with others and respecting diversity.


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