The Hebrew languages contains an array of hidden meanings and insights. Rabbi Daniel Lappin probed many of these in his book Hidden Treasure.
One of the most intriguing is the word for face, panim. It is in the plural form. The “im” ending in Hebrew is the equivalent of adding an “s” in English. Yet face is not a plural word. It is singular. We only have one face.
Or Do We?
Perhaps the Hebrew pluralized form conveys something about human nature. Perhaps we can understand “face” as more than a physical attribute. It is our way of experiencing of the world.
We can both love and hate. We give and take. We smile and we frown. To be “two-faced”–or three-faced or four-faced–is not to be duplicitous. It is to be human.
How God Made All of Us Two-Faced
A stunning exploration of this idea is found in the work of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinker of the twentieth century, Joseph Soloveitchik. Soloveitchik pointed out that the Bible contains two accounts of the creation of human beings.
In the first telling we read “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness. Let him dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock animals, and all the earth, and every wild animal that walks the earth.’” (1:26)
This story highlights our dominance and majesty. We resemble God, and we dominate the natural world.
In Genesis chapter two, however, we read, “God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man became a living creature… God took man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till and to tend it.” (2:7,15)
Here we find no reference to having been created in the image of God. We are not given dominion over the earth. Our primary task is “to till and tend it.”
Two Sides of One Truth
On the literal level, each of these cannot be true. On a spiritual and psychological level, however, they can be.
Each of us has a strong creative side, and a contemplative sacred side. Part of us wants bigger, faster, stronger. The other part wants gentler, slower, more relaxing.
Part of us prepares endlessly for the future. The other savors the moment. Part of us wants control. The other part wants to be held in the hands of God.
Soloveitchik’s insight is that the two creation stories in Genesis reflect two aspects of the same person. What seems like the creation of two separate being is really a story about the complexities of us all.
Our greatest challenge is to bring them into balance. Only then we can find harmony and happiness.
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