GOOD MORNING! How do you know if you're a good person? Virtually, everyone thinks that what they do is right. If you don't believe me, just try to tell someone that they're wrong and see how fast their defenses rise! Or, better yet, notice when someone tells you that you're mistaken -- notice how fast your defenses rise!
The question is, "If one doesn't believe in God and a revealed absolute code of morality, how does one measure whether or not he's a good person?" My colleague, Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, the editor of aish.com brilliantly clarifies the issues in his article "Morality: Who Needs God?" (aish.com/morality) which I share with you today.
"God's existence has direct bearing on how we view morality. As Dostoyevsky so famously put it, "Without God, everything is permitted."
"At first glance, this statement may not make sense. Everything is permitted? Can't there be a morality without an infinite God?
"Perhaps some of the confusion is due to the concept of moral relativism. Moral relativism maintains that there is no objective standard of right and wrong existing separate and independent from humanity. The creation of moral principles stems only from within a person, not as a distinct, detached reality. Each person is the source and definer of his or her subjective ethical code, and each has equal power and authority to define morality the way he or she sees fit.
"The consequences of moral relativism are far-reaching. Since all moral issues are subjective, right and wrong are reduced to matters of opinion and personal taste. Without a binding, objective standard of morality that sticks whether one likes it or not, a person can do whatever he feels like by choosing to label any behavior he personally enjoys as "good." Adultery, embezzlement, and random acts of cruelty may not be your cup of tea -- but why should that stop someone from taking pleasure in them if that is what they enjoy?
"Is having an intimate relationship with a 12-year-old objectively wrong just because you don't like it?
"Perhaps murder makes a serial killer feel powerful and alive. A moral relativist can say he finds murder disgusting, but that does not make it wrong -- only distasteful. Hannibal, the Cannibal, is entitled to his own preferences even if they are unusual and repugnant to most.
"Popularity has nothing to do with determining absolute morality; it just makes it commonplace, like the color navy.
"But this killer is hurting others!" True. But in a world where everything is subjective, hurting an innocent person is merely distasteful to some, like eating chocolate ice cream with lasagna. Just because we may not like it doesn't make it evil. Evil? By whose standard? No one's subjective opinion is more authoritative than another's.
"Although many people may profess to subscribe to moral relativism, it is very rare to find a consistent moral relativist. Just about everyone believes in some absolute truths. That absolute truth may only be that it is wrong to hurt others, or that there are no absolutes. The point is that just about everyone is convinced that there is some form of absolute truth, whatever that truth may be. Most of us, it seems, are not moral relativists.
"Bertrand Russell wrote: I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it.
"Not too many of us believe that killing an innocent person is just a matter of taste that can change according to whim. Most of us think it is an act that is intrinsically wrong, regardless of what anyone thinks. According to this view, the standard of morality is an unchangeable reality that transcends humanity, not subject to our approval."
This is the first part of the article; next week it will conclude.
If you don't wish to wait, you may go to aish.com/morality to read the rest!
Torah Portion of the Week
This week we have the trials and tribulations of Jacob (Ya'akov) living with and working for his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob agreed to work as a shepherd 7 years for Rachel only to have Laban switch daughters on him at the marriage ceremony. This is why we have the badekin ('covering' ceremony) where the groom sees the face of his bride to ensure he is marrying the right woman before he covers her with the veil.
As Jacob tries to build his equity, Laban changes their agreement time after time. After 20 years, the Almighty tells Jacob the time has come to return to the land of Canaan. Jacob and his household secretly leave only to be pursued by Laban who has claims to put forth. The story ends with peace and blessings between Jacob and Laban.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Ya'akov fled the wrath of his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him. On his journey to Padan Aram where his uncle and family lived, Ya'akov slept on the place where the Temple would be built by Solomon many years later. The Torah states:
"And Ya'akov woke up from his sleep and he said, 'The Almighty is in this place and I did not know it' " (Gen. 28:16).
Rashi explains that Ya'akov said, "If I were to have realized the sanctity of this place, I would not have slept here."
Rabbi Yosef Hurwitz of Nevardok points out that Ya'akov was fleeing for his life from Esau. He was penniless and prayed to the Almighty for just the basic necessities of food to eat and clothing to wear. The Almighty came to him in a dream and gave him a guarantee that He would watch over him and all would be well. When Ya'akov awoke, his initial reaction could easily have been one of extreme joy and gratitude for this promise. However, what was Ya'akov's initial thought? He censured himself for sleeping at a sacred site.
A person whose main focus is self-improvement and a striving for perfection will always check his behavior to see what needs correction. Keep asking yourself, "Have I made any mistakes?" When you do find a mistake, feel positive for the opportunity to correct the mistake for the future.
A word of caution. While self-criticism is a prerequisite for character improvement, one must be careful to have a healthy balance. Excessive self-condemnation will be extremely detrimental to one's well-being. You need to master an attitude of joy for doing good and then self-criticism will add to that joy. Every fault that is found and worked on will give you the pleasure of knowing that you are improving!
CANDLE LIGHTING - December 2
(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)
Guatemala 5:13 - Hong Kong 5:20 - Honolulu 5:30
J'Burg 6:28 - London 3:37 - Los Angeles 4:26
Melbourne 8:09 - Mexico City 5:38 - Miami 5:13
New York 4:11 - Singapore 6:38 - Toronto 4:24
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
What you do wrong has more opportunity for growth
than anything you do right
-- Rabbi Stephen Baars
With Deep Appreciation to
Mr. Gabor Szerb