The use of the word na’aseh, “let us make”, in Bereishit 1:26 is, simply, perplexing. Why would God use the plural form of the verb to describe His singular actions? Why would he further do so knowing that this would give force to those who challenge the very Oneness of HaKodesh Baruch Hu?1 T.B. Sanhedrin 38b responds to this latter question by insisting that this problem should actually not really arise for Bereishit 1:27 immediately uses the single construction of a verb in describing God’s actions. Torah Temima, Bereishit 1:26, note 58, however, maintains, as evidenced by the use of the singular in both verses of the Septuagint, 2 that concern should still exist in that one wishing to find fault can still raise a challenge. What could possibly have been so important a message, incorporated in the plural use of this verb, so that God was willing to live with the harm of a potential mistake?
One approach undertaken to answer these questions is built upon an understanding that this was really an act of a “we”. Ramban argues that God only created something ex nihilo, from nothing, on the first day; subsequent creations were all from created substances. As such, he shows that previous commands of creation were actually directions to these created substances to bring forth new beings; the process of creation is being described.3 In the case of the creation of Adam, it is now understandable why the plural was used. God called upon the earth to bring forth the created physical elements from which Adam was to be formed, as was the case in other aspects of Creation, but then God would add the soul anew from the spiritual realm. According to this approach, “we” is just keeping in line with the narrative, expressing fundamental principles in how we are to approach the Creation story. The fact that people would make mistakes, especially given the fact that there was enough evidence to really dispel these mistakes, should not cause us to deviate from an honest depiction of the creation of Man from two realms, the physical and the spiritual, which is the essential challenge that Man must face and solve.4
Rashi takes a different approach. He does not see the language as describing what we may term an inherent, pluralistic element of creation but rather admits that the language is indeed misleading. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that this language may be improperly used by heretics to support their views, God deemed it important to use this language in order to teach us derech eretz, manners and civility, and anivut, humility. By using the plural, we are being told that God consulted with His beit din, His heavenly court, before creating Man, demonstrating to us that it is proper for the mighty to gain permission from the lowly before acting. Yet, upon reflection, we may wonder what such behaviour actually entails and whether it truly is proper. If someone with more knowledge and ability makes a decision, is it truly in line with derech eretz for such a person to consult and attempt to gain the approval of one with fewer qualifications? Could such a scenario not also be seen as somewhat of a mockery? This verse cannot possibly mean that God play-acted, going through the motions of consulting with His heavenly court, even though everyone, including this court, would know the irrelevancy of such an exercise. What then is the lesson of derech eretz and model of anivut that this verse is actually imparting?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch states that the verse is actually using the royal we, the pluralis Majestatis. What, though, is the significance of this term? Why do royalty speak in the plural? The use of this term may possibly indicate that a monarch is not acting in self-interest but with the interest of those being governed, “from the point of view of the general interest, and for the general well-being and happiness.” This idea could possibly explain Rashi.5 It is derech eretz for a ruler to reflect and project this representation. He should constantly reinforce to himself, and in the presence of others, this recognition. Such language would also promote anivut for a ruler, thereby, would recognize that his subjects are not there to serve him but, rather, he is there to serve his subjects. God, with the use of the plural, wanted to make it clear that this was not about Him but about His creation. For such a purpose, the potential, incorrect application of the verse by heretics simply had to be weathered.
Maharal, Gur Aryeh adopts a different line of reasoning. Requesting another’s involvement in a decision or agreement with a decision would seem to reflect a possible weakness in the decision. The message would seem to be that the decision-maker is requesting more input in order to ensure that the decision is a correct one. An argument that one should do so, even when one does not really need the input, because of derech eretz and/or anivut would seem to imply that one should still give this impression to others, even when not necessary, for these reasons. Applying such reasoning to this case, though, would seem to be problematic as presented above. God does not need His beit din’s input to ensure that His decisions are correct ones – and the beit din knows this. In such a case it would seem to be just a play. Maharal, though, identifies another reason for why one may consult others in a decision.
It may be necessary for those affected by a decision to also understand the reasoning behind the decision. In such a case, it is indeed not enough for the correct decision to be made but for all to further understand that it is the correct decision. It is this further decision that may be the product of manners and humility. These are the values that make us sensitive to the other and recognize the weakness in imposing our will, our decisions, upon others and the need for the other to also understand the value of the decision. That is God’s lesson in this case. There was no doubt that God’s decision was the correct one. God wanted to teach us, though, the importance of the other also knowing the reason. This is humility.6
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 The Christian concept of the trinity immediately comes to mind however, this concern would seem to have pre-dated even this specific concern and it was actually more generalized – that this verse would be seen to give value to polytheism in general. The famous explanation of Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:1,2 as to how idolatry began would seem to be most on point.
2 See T.B. Megilla 9a.
3 See, for example Bereishit 1:24.
4 Various sources, in this vein, also point to the plural use of the terms d'muteinu, forms, and tzalmeinu, images, which were intended, as such, to show the dialectic nature of Man and the bechira, free choice, that he was given. Ramban thus points out that Bereishit 1:27 was then to show how Man was specifically distinct.
5 Rabbi Hirsch actually develops this idea in a different direction.
6 A similar argument could
be made regarding Avraham Avinu’s
questioning of God at
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