“I must say that in the tradition of Judaism, I have a very high estimation of the nature of man. And frankly, I do it in defiance of many theories current in the academic life of America, in the contemporary literature of America, and in other countries. Yes, if I were to say what challenges me most in the Hebrew tradition, it is the high view Jewish tradition takes of the nature of man.
You say there is a uniquely Jewish view of man?
Yes. Let me first stress one point. The point is what is mentioned in the beginning of the book of Genesis, that God created man in His own image. Frankly, if Moses had consulted me, I would have told him, ‘Don’t say it.’ It’s an impossible statement. First of all, it is absurd to say that man is created in the image of God. And second, it contradicts a major principle of the Ten Commandments. It says, ‘Thou shalt not make an image of God.’ So God made an image of God Himself, against His own law.
It is a scandalous statement. Upon thinking about it further, I realized that I have to understand its meaning. And this I believe is its meaning. You see, God is invisible, totally invisible. Any thought of Him is so inadequate, He’s almost unthinkable. Any time, any moment I think, I know, I assume that my thought of God is adequate, then I know that I fail. He’s so mysterious and so surpassing the power of the human mind that I always have to live in the paradox around Him, pray often. And realize that I am capable of being, of experiencing being thought of by Him rather than thinking of Him.
Now, God is invisible. But you can’t live without God. So God created a reminder, an image. What is the meaning of man? To be a reminder of God. God is invisible. And since He couldn’t be everywhere, He created man. You look at man and you are reminded of God…What is the mission of man, according to the Jewish view? To be a reminder of God. As God is compassionate, let man be compassionate. As God strives for meaning and justice, let man strive for meaning and justice.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, pp. 401-02)