In the narrative in Genesis depicting the Creation, the climax is phrased in the plural: “And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26). With whom did God collaborate when creating man? One accepted interpretation that appears in biblical commentary through the
ages − namely, that God collaborates with the ministering angels − constitutes the basis for an unusual midrash: “Rabbi Simon states: When God was about to create Adam, the ministering angels broke up into various groups. While some of the angels said, ‘God should create man,’ the other angels said ‘God should not create man,’ as it is written, ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalms 85:11). Mercy said, ‘God should create man because man is a charitable being,’ while Truth said, ‘God should not create man because man is full of lies.’
“Righteousness said, ‘God should create man because man is a just being,’ while Peace said, ‘God should not create man because man always quarrels.’ What did God do? He took Truth and hurled it to the ground. The ministering angels said to God, ‘Master of the Universe, why are you dishonoring your seal? Truth will rise up from the earth, as it is written, “Truth springeth out of the earth” [Pss. 85:12]’” (Bereisheet Rabbah 8:5).
When God is about to create man, an internal dispute thus develops among the angels. In this disagreement − and by means of a quote from Psalms that is mentioned in this new context − the ministering angels are transformed from independent, individual entities into abstract concepts, and the lively argument over whether or not creation of man is a worthwhile endeavor evolves into a principled discourse between different attributes.
Whereas the attribute of mercy argues that God should create man because man is charitable, the attribute of truth counters that God should desist because man is a liar. The attribute of righteousness argues that God should create man since man is just, while the attribute of peace objects because man always quarrels.
Needless to say, in both the literal reading of the verses and in the midrash, God does not ask for a “vote” on this issue. The ministering angels take the initiative, forming small groups and expressing opinions. And the Almighty does take their opinions into consideration to some extent. That fact, and the switch from angels to abstract attributes, raise the possibility that the midrash is not opening a window to what transpires among the members of God’s entourage or their views about their divine leader: Rather, it portrays the Almighty’s own debate with himself.
This interpretation solves the question of why the plural form is used in Genesis 1:26: God says “Let us make man” because, according to this approach, the act of Creation has made him suffer serious psychosis. The different voices God hears while debating with himself present solid arguments, and he must choose among them, even if each one represents an important aspect of his identity. According to this midrash, to put an end to this internal dissonance, God simply overrides his angelic counselors. Or perhaps he is engaging in self-deception while dramatically silencing his inner voices.
Moreover, in a manner that is not characteristic of midrashim, this one does not have a harmonious ending. Rather than declaring something like “They immediately thought the matter over and created a man,” or immediately citing the verse, “And God created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27) − the midrash’s focus moves from the issue of creation of man to the internal response to God’s dramatic actions.
The attributes protest the fact that God ignored their counsel and argue that the one among them that has been hurled to the earth − Truth − is too important to be overlooked. Moreover, Truth is destined to return by itself and sprout up from the earth. That prophecy is supported by a verse from Psalms. Here, the midrash stops short of coming to a formal conclusion or mentioning either the creation of man or God’s response to the protest. This almost-modernistic text leaves the reader wondering whether a technical problem has caused the lights to come up in the movie theater or whether the film is really over.
The reader knows that, in the final analysis, God does create man; the arguments raised by the ministering angels clearly do not prevent that from happening. In effect, these disagreements are expressed solely in order to reflect the steep price that God chooses to pay in order to enable creation of man. What is more, this price is not something that is self-understood.
The Western ethos with respect to creativity, which fully expresses the spirit of an artist, is reflected in the almost-magical role played by his or her signature. Indeed, the artist’s signature on a work of art certifies, “This work is a faithful reflection of myself as a creator and I totally endorse this embodiment of creativity.” This is especially true when the signature or seal is God’s − namely, when it embodies truth itself.
As the attribute of Truth attests, man tells lies and can therefore never constitute a complete and genuine expression or reflection of his Maker. To enable creation of man, God suspends the use of his own seal, and thus makes possible production of an entity that is not exactly suited to him − one that deviates in nature from his own lofty attributes. The fact that there is no need to affix the divine seal to this product “liberates” the process: Had God wanted to create a being that would be a total expression of himself, he could not have made man. God’s refusal to sign his work of art enables that creative process.
The ministering angels understand not only God’s decision in this regard, but also its future consequences. Truth, they argue, will in any event sprout up on its own and ultimately, all lies will be exposed.
For their part, artists cannot abandon their signature completely, even in the name of a certain goal; that signature will come to the fore later and will have an impact on the artist’s attitude to the work of art. Such is the case here: The truth will return and burst forth from the earth; by means of the truth, God will then severely judge the work his own hands have wrought.
Perhaps this is the motivation behind this unusual midrashic scenario, whereby man stands before God and asks about the gap between them: How could man − a being that is full of lies − have been created by God, whose seal embodies the truth? In Rabbi Simon’s view, the dissonance between the Creator and the being he created is alluded to in the plural words used in Genesis 1:26. They indicate that there was more than one hand involved in the creative process here. And if that is the case, one might argue, the hand that decided to create man − a mendacious being − was not the same hand whose seal is truth.
In the myth of monotheism, there is a built-in lacuna: the absence of gods who personify various aspects of the godhead, who can struggle against and defeat one another. Rabbi Simon compensates for this lacuna with a psychotic depiction of God as a deity that initiates an act of self-deception. God hurls his seal to the ground. This modernistic midrash depicts God as struggling so as achieve temporary liberation from himself and thereby enable the creation of the sole being that might deviate from divine boundaries − a nonstandard being, one from which the Creator must alienate himself.