Relating to Others: In the Image of God



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A Jerk or in the Image of God?

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman

I sat across from Jim, opposing counsel in a complicated commercial case, while the court reporter diligently typed the stream of words pouring from my client's lips. The deposition had gone on all morning and my client, exhausted from the intensity of the inquiry, had become a little cranky and loose-lipped. My stomach rumbled like distant thunder and I asked if we could take a recess until after lunch.

"I can't break now. I only have this afternoon to depose your client and the witness. Maybe your caseload is lighter than mine, but I don't have the time to chit-chat the noon hour away."Jim's voice filled the room with unnecessary rancor.

"I just thought it was a good time to break, seeing as we've been at it for 4 hours and need some food and time to regroup," I responded evenly.

"Your needs are of no concern," was his acid retort.

O.K., you say. He was being a jerk, plain and simple. But at that moment I had to decide how to respond to his tone and implications while balancing my responsibilities to my client with my need to remain professional and dignified.

That's when I did a quick mental checklist of what might really be going on. Was Jim so stressed and overworked that time for a sandwich seemed like a day at the beach? Was he worried about the case and felt that if we broke the momentum he might lose the chance to wear my client down? Had I offended him in some way without knowing it?

I began to speculate about who Jim was as a person, not just as the overworked, high-strung lawyer I knew him to be, but as a man who might be trying too hard to play the game without realizing what he was giving up in the process. The room grew still and the court reporter looked nervously at me for a response.

Five words came to mind, words that I had never applied to my law practice before. The words came out of nowhere (actually they come from the Book of Genesis when God created humanity) and weren't what you'd expect I'd be thinking, given the situation. Rather than 'See you in court, buddy' or 'No need to be hostile,' the five words that helped me respond to Jim were: 'in the image of God.'

In Hebrew, B'Tzelem Elohim means 'in the likeness or image of God.' That humanity was created not only as the highest form of life on earth but in the image of the Creator is a lofty concept to be sure. One that I first understood the morning my son was born and my husband gently handed him to me, still wet and matted from birth. I looked into his eyes and knew at that moment that I was looking into the eyes of God.

Being created in the image of God tells us a great deal about who we are and who we can become as individuals. It teaches us that just as God has immeasurable power and capability for creativity, so do we have limitless potential to develop ourselves if we put our minds to it. It teaches us that just as God is infinite and unique, so are we of infinite value and worth. It reminds us that just as God acts with compassion and love towards the people of Israel but also feels great frustration and anger towards them, so should we strive for compassion with others even though we have feelings that confuse, anger or frighten us.

I looked over at Jim and tried to look beyond his patently disagreeable surface to what lay beneath. Maybe he had a bad day, forgot his anniversary or missed a car payment. And as I tried to paint Jim in the image of God, I became aware that my feelings towards him were changing.

"O.K. Jim," I said. "Let's just take ten minutes and order some sandwiches and we can keep going and get through this today."

It didn't take much on my part to dissipate the tension in the room. Jim looked relieved and even a bit sheepish. How different the world might be if we could recognize that within each one of us, there is something divine, some intangible spark of God-ness, to be honored. For in making the effort to look for the image of God in each other, we might find not only the best in them, but the best in ourselves as well.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a Jewish family and life columnist in more than twenty papers nationwide and author of "To Life! Jewish Reflections on Everyday Living" and "One God, Many Paths: Finding Meaning and Inspiration in Jewish Teachings". You can read more about her at


from the June 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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