[Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is man, for he was created in [G‑d's] image; it is indicative of greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in [G‑d's] image…(Avot 3:14)

The verse cited by our Mishna demonstrates that man was not only originally created in G‑d's's image, but that he also continued to retain this image despite various events that had occurred since his creation. For example, one might assume that when Eve was created (formed from a rib that had been separated from Adam), man's profile would be permanently altered. Furthermore, one could maintain that after Adam had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge - which led to certain changes in his physical appearance such as his wearing clothes - his Divine likeness would also be tarnished. To counter this misconception, the Mishna says: "…it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in [G‑d's] image."

G‑d displayed extraordinary love...by assuring us that we...remain in His image even after sinning….

G‑d displayed extraordinary love to us by assuring us that we continue to remain in His image even after sinning. Whereas we originally were created in G‑d's likeness, which involved a purely passive role on our part, now mankind and especially the Jewish People enjoy a far greater challenge - to return to their original Divine image through the observance of Torah and mitzvot. By eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam blurred the distinction between good and bad. Only by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, Torah and mitzvot, can Adam's descendants reverse their forefather's tragic error and retrieve their original Divine image.

As King David sings, "G‑d's secrets are for those who fear Him, and His covenant to inform them" (Psalms 25:14). "G‑d's secrets" - the inner depths of Torah - were originally given to the first man, living under ideal conditions in Eden. However, his descendants banned from Paradise are informed that through G‑d's covenant - the Torah - they may regain the same exalted spiritual level that they once enjoyed in Eden.

[Anthologized and adapted by Yosef Stern as "Pirkei Avos - With Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters" (Mesorah Publications, ltd.)]