Shalom! Thank you for writing to Jewish Values Online.
You ask an interesting question, because the answer is 'it depends'. :-)
Not all service projects are created equal.
For example, a service project in which you volunteer to pick up trash and clean along a segment of a roadway wouldn't seem to have much to do with the Jewish concept of B'tzelem Elohim on the face of it. We are certainly not going to say that we see the image of G-d when we look at the trash! :-)
Perhaps we would see that image of the divine reflected in our actions in doing this project, in that we were working to do what is needed to improve the world (to fix it and make it more perfect), but that might better be described as Tikkuun Olam, or some other Jewish value..... So this example seems not to offer a good answer to your question.
On the other hand, a project to spend time with people who are shut in at home, or in a nursing facility, or hospital, would seem a lot more easily explainable as having a connection to that Jewish value of B'tzelem Elohim. After all, we are doing this service project (what I would call a Mitzvah project) BECAUSE these people arre B'tzelem Elohim - as human beings, they contain the divine essence or spark, and we are helping them to feel better and allowing that spark to shine a little brighter by what we do. At the same time, it could be argued, we are increasing our own spark by doing something that imitates G-d. Remember in Bereshit/Genesis, when Abraham is sitting in his tent and suddenly three strangers appear? Well, the rabbis teach that G-d was visitiing with Abraham because Abraham was ailing, - and that is where we get the Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim (visiting and cheeering up those who are ill), - JUST AS G-D DID - so what we are doing is truly B'tzelem Elohim - in the image of G-d, imitating or following what G-d did. :-)
I suggest you talk to you teacher and your rabbi about what sorts of service projects or Mitzvot would be a good way to act and honor the concept and value of B'tzelem Elohim in your own community.
You ask a very deep question. It needs to be divided in two parts: What is a service project and what is B'Tzelem Elokim?
The verse states that Man was created in the image of G'd. We are told that G'd has no image, body or form. How could man be an image of something unimaginable? One of the simple answers (all the answers could fill a book) is that throughout the Bible, G'd dsiplays various traits through interacting with people. G'd shows compassion, kindness, caring and etc. Human beings emulate those G'dly traits by being compassionate, kind, caring etc.
The project one undertakes should reflect something special of the person. Each person is made differently. Each person likes different things. There are no wrong ways to be. The possibilites are unlimited; just as G'd is unlimited. Each story in the Bible happens in its own special time. When G'd visited the sick - the total focus was on visiting the sick. The project undertaken should show of feeling of total devotion, something that shows just how special that person is.
How does completing a service project have anything to do with “b'tzelem Elohim”?
The Hebrew words, “b’tselem Elohim” mean: “in the image of God.” They appear in Genesis as part of the creation story: “And God created the human being in his image, in the image of God [b’tzelem Elohim] He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Alone among all the other creatures who appear in that creation story, human beings are described as having been created in the image of God. What do these words mean? They are not defined in the Bible itself. Some Jewish philosophers have suggested that “b’tselem Elohim” refers to the human capacity for intelligent thought. Others have other interpretations. But one thing is clear: inasmuch as all human beings are understood to be descendants of the first human beings who were created “b’tselemElohim,” we too, and every other human being with whom we interact, are understood to be created “b’tselemElohim.” You might say that this is the Jewish way of saying, “all men are created equal.” (The American Declaration of Independence)
When we encounter another human being, we must treat him or her with the respect due the image of God that he or she embodies. Thus, whenever we complete a service project or do anything else that reinforces the inherent dignity of all human beings, we are expressing our faith that all human beings are created “b’tselemElohim,” and are equally worthy of respect.
How does completing a service project have anything to do with B'Tzelem Elohim?
If I truly believe that each one of us is made in the image of God, then how will I treat you? How should we treat one another if we believe this is true? Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to treat others with loving-kindness, respect, and dignity. In performing the mitzvah of tikkun olam, repairing the world, we are in essence creating an opportunity to strengthen b'tzelem Elohim in others. This occurs because my actions of a service project in itself is treating the other with loving-kindness, respect and dignity.
Think of it this way - the basic idea behind b'tzelem Elohim is to bring to the surface the "God-like" qualities within ourselves. Service projects helps us do this because we want these divine qualities to define both ourselves and our peers; but more importantly, we want the divine presence in all of our lives and this is the simplest path to this opportunity.
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