Honor God by Honoring His Image

Yael Eckstein  |  October 8, 2021

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Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
     whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
— Proverbs 17:5

We continue with devotional thoughts from the Book of Proverbs every Friday. One of the 11 books in the Torah known as the Ketuvim, Hebrew for “writings,” Proverbs is part of the “wisdom tradition,” which also includes Job and Ecclesiastes.

One of the greatest rabbis of the 20th century was Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky. Besides being a towering scholar of Jewish law and thought, he was also known as an extremely kindhearted man. He used to say, “I don’t divide the laws of God between those that are between man and God and those that are between man and man. To me there are laws that are between man and God, and then there are laws that are between man and the image of God.”

What a beautiful teaching! Think about it. Every single person that we meet is an example of God’s image on this earth. Now it’s true that we can more easily feel the presence of God’s image when we meet great and inspiring people. But we need to remember that every person is made in His image. With some people the image of God is more revealed, and with others it’s hidden.

Honor God by Honoring His Image

This is what Proverbs teaches us about how we relate to poor people. Poor people make many people want to turn away. Some people think negative thoughts about the poor, like wondering if their poverty is their own fault. But that’s not what God wants from us. It is not for us to ask how a person got where they are. Our responsibility is to help them.

The second half of the verse teaches a similar lesson. A common reaction when confronted with disaster is to simply be grateful that we were spared. This may not seem like “gloating,” as the verse says, but the Hebrew for “gloat” here is same’ach, meaning “happy” or “rejoicing.”

If our response to tragedy focuses on ourselves, we have missed the point. We ought to ask the question, “Why did God make me aware of this tragedy? What am I supposed to do about it?” After all, the tragedy, like the poor person, could have existed without our knowledge. If God wanted us to know it’s because He wants us to respond.

When there is tragedy and need, the image of God is suffering. God suffers, too. But we can honor God by honoring His image. And we do that when we respond with tzedakah — charity, comfort, and love — to those around us.

Your Turn:

Take some time this week to give assistance or comfort to someone in need or suffering a personal tragedy.