GOOD MORNING! How do you know if you are a good person and if your actions are moral? Last week I shared with you the first part of Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith's article "Morality: Who Needs God?" (You may wish to read the complete article at aish.com/morality -- especially since I have elipsed/excerpted from the last section of the article because of lack of space).
We left off with: "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.
"An absolute standard of morality can only stem from an infinite source. Why is that? When we describe murder as being immoral, we do not mean it is wrong just for now, with the possibility of it becoming "right" some time in the future. Absolute means unchangeable, not unchanging.
"What's the difference? My dislike for olives is unchanging. I'll never start liking them. That doesn't mean it is impossible for my taste to change, even though it's highly unlikely. Since it could change, it is not absolute. It is changeable.
"The term 'absolute' means without the ability to change. It is utterly permanent, unchangeable. Think of something absolute. Take for example an icon of permanence and stability -- the Rock of Gibraltar. 'Get a piece of the rock' -- it lasts forever! But does it really? Is it absolute? No. It is undergoing change every second. It is getting older, it is eroding.
"The nature of absolute is a bit tricky to grasp because we run into the problem of our finite selves attempting to perceive the infinite. Everything that exists within time undergoes change. That's what time is -- a measurement of change. In Hebrew, shanah means 'year,' sharing the same root shinah, 'change.'
"If everything in the finite universe is undergoing change -- since it exists within time -- where can we find the quality of absolute? Its source cannot be in time, which is constantly undergoing change. It must be beyond time, in the infinite dimension. Only God, the infinite Being that exists beyond time, is absolute and unchangeable. 'I am God, I do not change.' (Malachi 3:6)
"Therefore, an absolute standard of morality can exist only if it stems from an infinite dimension -- a realm that is eternal, beyond time, with no beginning and no end. ...
"If everything is relative, then it makes no difference what anyone thinks. Ideas no longer matter. With no absolute standard of right and wrong or truth and falsehood, the pursuit of wisdom becomes nonsensical. What are we searching for? If no idea is more valid than another, there is no purpose in re-evaluating one's belief system and being open to exploring new concepts -- since there is no possibility of ever being wrong. ...
"What provokes our moral outrage? Injustice? Cruelty? Oppression? There is the sense that an absolute standard of morality is being violated, an objective standard that transcends humanity, that stems from an infinite and absolute Being."
Torah Portion of the Week
On the trip back to Canaan, Jacob meets his brother Esau; Jacob wrestles with the angel. Then they arrive in Shechem; Shechem, the son of Chamor the Hivite, (heir to the town of Shechem) rapes Jacob's daughter, Dina; Dina's brothers, Shimon and Levy, massacre the men of Shechem; Rebecca (Rivka) dies; God gives Jacob an additional name, "Israel," and reaffirms the blessing to Avraham that the land of Canaan (Israel) will be given to his descendants; Rachel dies after giving birth to Benjamin (Binyomin); Jacob's 12 sons are listed; Isaac dies; Esau's lineage is recorded as is that of Seir the Horite; and lastly ... the succession of the Kings of Edom is chronicled.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And Esau said, 'I have a lot.' And Jacob said, 'I have everything.' " (Genesis 33:9,10,11)
Which of the two brothers is richer?
The Chofetz Chaim commented that with these two remarks we see the difference between the world views of Jacob and Esau. Esau said that he had a lot. Even though he had a large amount, he would still want more, for "whoever has a hundred wants two hundred." Jacob, however, said, "I have everything." I am not missing anything at all. Esau constantly wanted more, while Jacob felt great satisfaction in what he had.
Regardless of how much you have, there is always much more that you want. Having the attitude that you never really have enough will cause you constant frustration. If you focus on what you lack or think you lack, your life will be filled with anxiety and suffering. The choice is yours to be truly rich or to be "poor" with many possessions!
Internalize the attitude of Jacob: "I have everything that I need." Pirke Avos, Ethics of our Fathers 4:1 (found in the back of most traditional prayer books), teaches us, "Who is the rich person? He who is happy with his portion." If you focus on what you have, you will be happy.
Of course, you have a right to try to acquire more. However, if you are unable to, you will feel calm and serene. If you do acquire more, very good. If not, it is a sign that for your best interests you do not really need any more.
CANDLE LIGHTING - December 9
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Whether you are polished or ground down by life,
depends upon what you're made of.
In Loving Memory of
a beloved friend
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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