Tzelem Elokim – Weekly Words of Torah, Parshat Noach 5774

Insights into Parshat Noach of Rav Moshe Ganz, Ram Emeritus of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.

Upon exiting the ark, Hashem commanded Noach and his children to multiply and fill the earth, permitted them to partake from animal flesh, and forbade them from partaking in murder and suicide “…for man was made in the conceptual image of Hashem- Tzelem Elokim”.

Why are these commandments mentioned at this time? The Torah states that robbery and sexual immorality generated the guilty verdict of the generation of the flood. Shouldn’t those prohibitions have been mentioned here instead?

It appears that the focal point of this passage is the sentence that “…man was made with Tzelem Elokim”. This is the major message for those who have exited the ark. All of the blessings, promises and commandments in this passage are connected to this message.

This passage emphasizes the difference between man, who is created with Tzelem Elokim, and animals. Man rules over animals. If an animal attacks a person, Hashem will demand his blood. The prohibitions of murder and suicide are mentioned in connection to Tzelem Elokim. Procreation is predicated upon the value and importance of human beings. In Bereshit Raba (34:14) Chazal state that anyone who is not involved in procreation is considered as if he has minimized the conceptual image of Hashem- as a person possesses Tzelem Elokim!

For this reason the permission to partake in animal flesh is mentioned at this juncture. A person must recognize that he is superior to animals. There is no other justification for a person to consume meat. Precisely the passage that is focused upon the Tezelm Elokim quality of humans contains the permission to partake of animal flesh.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (3:14) states that a special affection applies to humans as they are informed that they are created with Tzelem Elokim. Without this knowledge, a person lives in confusion and darkness. He feels that he is drawn towards elevated actions, and to the opposite as well. In his confusion, lacking awareness of his true self, he is susceptible to be carried away in all directions. The revelation of his essence, that he is created with Tzelem Elokim, strengthens his trust in his spiritual powers and assists him in overcoming his weaknesses.

This message is important to convey precisely subsequent to the flood- Mabul. The Tzelem Elokim was blurred prior to the Mabul. People acted like animals. Noach and his family may wonder if humanity- which was nearly totally destroyed- contains spiritual components. These thoughts may weaken the moral power of those who left the ark. Thus Hashem informs Noach and his family: Despite what you have witnessed- man is created with Tzelem Elokim. Yes, man may lose his way; both the individual and the community. He may, due to evil choices, descend to very low depths. Nevertheless- mans essence is that he is created beTzelem Elokim!

The fact that man is beloved due to his being informed that he is created with Tzelem Elokim is a necessary introduction for the next stage. Beloved are the Jewish People who are termed the children of Hashem (Pirkei Avot 3:14).