Nephesh Hachaim 1:1

Nephesh Hachaim Gate 1, Ch. 1


Amazingly enough, we’re said to have been created “in the image of G-d” (Genesis 1:27, 9:6). But what exactly does that mean? It surely speaks to a core-central part of our being that we’d have to comprehend if we’re ever to understand ourselves. So the greater part of this first Gate goes about explaining it while the idea reiterates through the entire work either overtly or subtly.

In point of fact, most of the mystical teachings of the Zohar focus on this seemingly other-worldly phenomenon 1. But we won’t be exploring the Zohar’s understanding of that here so much as the more implicit meaning of our having been created in His image as the earlier Literalists understood it 2.


Now, the idea of our having been created in G-d’s “image” certainly isn’t to be taken literally, as G-d hasn’t an “image” per se 3. What it implies is that we have something in common with Him 4 — something vitally important as we’ll see.

Let’s explain the analogy between our beings and G-d’s image this way. It’s written for example that “I was like a bird of the wilderness; I was like an owl of the wasteland” (Psalms 102:7). That’s certainly not to say that the person who’s speaking here has wings or a beak, or that he’d literally become a bird; but rather, as the Literalists explained it 5, that he’s somewhat bird-like in that he might, for example, wander about the desert in solitude the way certain birds do or the like, but nothing more than that 6. So our having been created in G-d’s “image” implies that we’re somewhat like G-d. We’ll soon see what it means 7.


1                See Eitz Chaim 1:2 for this point.

The Zohar (Parshat Ki Taitzai 279b, Tikkunei Zohar 19, 42a) uses the term Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Man”) when discussing this, thus referring to a more abstract notion of humankind. But R’ Chaim’s point is that he’ll be speaking about us specifically (though the term Adam Kadmon will be cited in 3:8).

Ari refers to Adam Kadmon very often in Otzrot Chaim, Sha’ar HaIggulim, and in Drush Adam Kadmon. He uses the expression Tzelem Elokim (“The Image of G-d”) in Otzrot Chaim, too. R’ Chaim’s son R’ Yitzchak (who wrote the Introduction above) added a lengthy and comprehensive treatment of the idea of Tzelem as explained in the Kabbalistic literature here which we won’t be addressing.

2               The so-called “Literalists” included Rambam (in this instance most especially and specifically, as we’ll see in note 6 below), Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Radak, and others. They were termed literalists because they strove to explain what the Torah was actually expressing. And so, for example, Rambam cited our ability to think as what likens us to G-d, while Ibn Ezra attributed it to the fact that we have an immortal and exalted soul.

3                After all, isn’t it written, “To whom can you compare G-d, and what likeness can you arrange for Him?” (Isaiah 40:18)?

4                That is, there’s a remote resemblance between G-d and us.

5                See Sha’ar HaHakdamot 5d for a discussion of the Literalists in this context.

6                This explanation of the extent of the metaphor is derived from the very first chapter of Moreh Nevuchim. Also see Ramban’s comments to Genesis 1:27.

7              Also see Ruach Chaim 2:1 and 2:2,5 below for a different discussion of this, as well as Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 80 and Kinat Hashem Tz’vaot 2.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

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