GOD'S MANIFESTO in Genesis for the creation of humankind, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’, presents Maimonides with a special challenge. Biblical expressions that appear to undermine his doctrine of God's non-physicality, such as ‘beneath his feet’ and ‘written with the finger of God’, can generally be neutralized by treating them as concessions to the inescapable concreteness of everyday language: ‘All these expressions are adapted to the mental capacity of mankind, who have a clear perception of physical bodies only. The Torah speaks in the language of men. All these phrases are metaphorical.’ Not so ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’. This verse needs to be defused much more carefully, for it is not reducible to metaphor. Even after we explain that the image and likeness in question are not physical, it still asserts what Maimonides denies: ‘there is absolutely no likeness in any respect whatever between Him and the things created by Him’, he states in the Guide, meaning no likeness of any kind, physical or non-physical.
At the same time, the love of God and the consequent desire to be like him drive Maimonides’ entire system. On the cosmic plane, these longings are the motive forces that make the spheres revolve, as we shall shortly see. On the human plane, likeness to God underlies human perfection, being the basis of both intellectual virtue and moral virtue in Maimonides’ version of these Aristotelian categories.
As far as intellectual virtue is concerned, the ultimate aim of all intellectual activity is the knowledge of God. Knowledge, in Aristotelian psychology, is a matter of likeness, for the act of cognition consists of the mind abstracting the form of the object that it contemplates and merging with that form. ‘Whenever intellect exists in actu, it is identical with the intellectually cognized thing’ is how this is put in the Guide. Knowledge of God would therefore appear to entail some kind of likeness to God.
Moral virtue is even more clearly associated with likeness to God, for the governing commandment of ‘Laws of Ethical Qualities’, where moral virtue is explained, is precisely to become like God.
Both these virtues are means to the love of God: moral virtue is a prerequisite for acquiring intellectual virtue, and intellectual virtue engenders love, for ‘according to the knowledge shall be the love, if little, little, if much, much’.