IN GOD'S IMAGE?
Rabbi Akiva would say: "Beloved is the human who was created in (God's) image. I have made him aware of abundant love because he was created in (God's) image, as it is written: 'For in the image of God, He made the human.'" (Genesis 9:6)
"Israel is beloved because they are called the children of the Omnipresent. I have made them aware of the abundant love because they are called children of the Omnipresent, as it is written: 'You are children to the Lord, your God...' (Deuteronomy 14:1) Beloved is Israel for a precious vessel was given to them. I have made them aware of the abundant love by giving them a precious vessel from which the world was created, as it is written: For I give you good instruction, do not forsake my Torah." (Proverbs 4:2)
Your Pirkei Avot Navigator
1. Rabbi Akiva sees something special in humanity as well as something special in Israel. How does he express it?
2. Why does Rabbi Akiva feel it necessary to add a second explanation to why Israel is considered special?
3. How does being "children of God" differ from being given "a precious vessel"? What does it add?
All of humanity can claim its spark of Divinity. Each person is beloved because God can potentially see Himself in every person. Rabbi Akiva believed that Israel not only "looked" a little like God, but could claim a higher level of intimacy.
If Rabbi Akiva would have stopped here, he might be accused of saying that Jews are God's children, irrespective of what they say or do, but he goes on to say: "The reason Israel may achieve the intimacy of children to their Parent is that they have been given a precious vessel, the Torah. When we adhere responsibly to its instruction we can claim this special relationship. If we forsake our responsibility, the relationship is forsaken as well."
All of humanity deserves to be seen as if they were created in the image of God, but Israel only distinguishes itself by exhibiting character and quality of behavior that befits a child of the Torah, which is tantamount to being a child of God.