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What Makes Something Moral? - A Chanukah Lesson

Posted by Rabbi Shapiro , 18 December 2011 · 0 views

להשכיחם תורתיך ולהעבירם מחקי רצוניך

What do we mean by chukei “רצוניך”? Why don’t we simply say “חקיך”? Is there any need to say that the חקים are the רצון ה'? Other places where חקים are mentioned it does not use the phrase chukei retzonechah, but simply chukim. The use of the adjective “retzonechah” to describe chukim is an isolated occurrence that appears exclusively regarding what the Yevanim wanted to destroy. The question is why.

To understand this, we some background. Back to the basics:

The Rambam writes that the foundation of all foundations is the existence of Hashem and that Ain od milvado. Now we can understand the reason Hashem’s existence is the foundation of everything since without that there could be no Torah and Mitzvos, but why is Ain od milvado included in the one major ikar? Even if Ain od milavdo would not be true c”v, we could still have Torah and Mitzvos, and granted that it is vital to our religion, but to say that it is on the same level as the very existence of Hashem, without which our entire religion could not exist, needs an explanation.

The answer is that the reason for the existence of the entire universe is in order to do Torah and Mitzvos, and the purpose of Torah and Miztvos is to bring us to Olam Habah, and if it were not true that Ain od milvado, none of that would be possible. Here's why:

Ain ol milvado means that the entire universe is actually nothing but the Ratzon Hashem. Not that the Ratzon Hashem is the cause of the universe, but the Ratzon Hashem is all that the universe consists of. To us the universe seems to have independent existence, but that is only because Hashem wills it to seem that way. In reality, nothing exists except for the Ratzon Hashem, which appears to us in various physical manifestations.

And because all of reality is nothing but the ratzon Hashem, therefore, we only exist to the extent that we follow the ratzon Hashem. Someone who goes against the ratzon Hashem neutralizes his own existence, his own reality, and someone who follows the ratzon Hashem, who knows the ratzon Hashem, whose ratzon is the same as the ratzon Hashem, makes himself real.

And therefore, when someone dies, the “real” part of him – the part in sync with ratzon Hashem, i.e. Torah and Mitzvos – remains forever as a reality, tied to Hashem, Who is the only reality in existence. And that is Gan Eden – the d’veykus to Hashem that comes through Torah and Mitzvos, meaning, to the extent that we have earned real existence by living according to the razton Hashem, which is the only real existence, we remain in existence, part of the only real Existence, forever.

If someone does not fulfill the Ratzon Hashem, he falls into the oblivion of non-existence (after he receives his punishment in Gehinnom).

This is why Ain Ode Milvado is the foundation of all foundations. Because it is upon the rule of Ain Ode Milvado – that reality is only the Ratzon Hashem – that the entire world plan is based. Because of Ain Ode Milvado, the more we do Torah and Miztvos the more we go to Gan Eden.

We need one more prefatory idea before we can answer our original question:
The idea of טוב, ערב, ומועיל.

Those are the three motivations people have for doing things:

Areiv – it’s pleasurable, even if it’s not practical or the right thing to do.

Moyil – It’s practical, it brings a benefit, even if it is not pleasurable, the fact that it results in a practical benefit is an incentive for someone to perform the act.

Tov – it’s the right thing to do. Even if it’s impractical and un-pleasurable, the fact that it is the right thing to do is an incentive.
Let’s focus on the last one: “Tov.” This one is really a problem because this means you should do it not for any reason, just because it’s intrinsically something you should do. The problem is, there really is no such thing as “should”. At least not as an incentive, because the question remains: why would a person do something that he should do? Everyone who does the right thing does it for a reason. Either because he is going to Olam Habah or because he gets a feeling of satisfaction or because he wants to make Hashem happy, or some other reason, but there is always a reason that a person has for doing something that is “tov.” When the doctor says you should take care of your health, the patient makes a decision whether he should comply based on a cost/benefit analysis of the consequences of his listening vs. not listening. If he listens, he lives healthy and happily; if he doesn’t listen he gets sick.

There’s no such thing in this world as “should”. There are only wise choices and unwise choices based on consequences. But it is always the result of consequences. It is never because something intrinsically “should” be done for no other reason than it “should“ be done.

We live in a world of “is.” “Should” is merely a personal preference, an asseement of which set of consequences is wiser to accept. But the incentive is not “should” per se.

This is why, in the secular world, “morals” are always being debated. Is abortion right or wrong? Capital punishment? Assisted suicide? The reason why these questions can never be resolved conclusively is because they are “should” questions – and “should” does not exist.

You can say the consequences of murder are bad – people will kill each other, and so it is beneficial for society to enter into an enforceable social contract not to kill, but that means killing isn’t wrong per se – it means that it leads to undesirable consequences. There is no such thing in this world as “should”. There are only choices that lead to desirable consequences.

We live in a world of “is.” “Should” is not a reality. Everything is either “areiv” or “moyil.” “Tov” is not part of the equation.
But there is an exception: Torah laws.

Because the whole world is nothing but the Ratzon Hashem, because the world as we know it becomes real only because it is an expression of Hashem’s will, consequently, there is no difference in terms of reality between a table, which is the Ratzon Hashem, or a statement of “Thou shalt not kill,” which is the Ratzon Hashem as well. If a table were real because if its physical properties, if reality would be defined based on some “is” factors, then a ‘should” statement would have no real existence. But since reality is defined only by what is the Ratzon Hashem, then it doesn’t matter if the Ratzon Hashem expresses itself in the form of an “is” object or a “should” – both of them are equally the Ratzon Hashem and so both are equally real.

So even though from a scientific perspective, there can be no such thing as “should,” the reality is that “should” is as real as anything else in the world, since “should” statements are the Ratzon Hashem as much as anything else we consider real.

And the only reason anything is real is because it is the Razton Hashem.

This is what the Torah means when it commands: Uvocharta bachaim. Does anyone need to be told to choose life over death? And if he is ready to do an aveirah even though Hashem told him not to, would it make any difference to him that Hashem also told him to not to choose the aveirah (uvacharta bachaim)?

The answer is the Torah is telling us that a person’s incentive for doing the right thing is not merely the result of a cost/benefit analysis of the consequences of each. It is that the Miztvos intrinsically should be kept. Not because they are areiv, not because they are moyil – but because they are Tov. They simply should be kept. Because that is the Ratzon Hashem – and that “should” reality is as real as any stick or stone we can touch and feel.

If someone says I know that if I do this aveirah I will go to Gehennom. But I am willing to go to Gehennom to do the aveirah - it is not merely that he goes to Gehennom, but his attitude violates the very idea of a Mitzvah – the idea expressed in Uvacharta Bachaim – that Mitzvos should be done, in and of themselves, and that a “should” statement that expresses the will of Hashem is a stand-alone without any other reason behind it.

But all this only exists in Torah, which is the Ratzon Hashem. Codes of ethics outside of the Torah are not intrinsically binding, because there is no valid “should” statement backing them. Rather, they are mere cost/benefit analyses, and the decision to be moral is merely following what is beneficial – in the short term or long term, to the individual or society – but the incentive to be moral outside the Torah is because of the consequences f onto being moral, not because there is any intrinsic reason to be moral.

And so, the Yevanim, who wanted the Jews to make Torah into a secular subject, were more than willing to allow Jews to fulfill the Mitzvos – but only as moral codes rather than as intrinsically binding. They wanted Jews to look at the Miztvos as the result of a cost/benefit analysis rather than manifestations of the Ratzon Hashem that result in reality commandments that they simply should keep. This is why it says they wanted to tear the Jews away from chuklei retzonechah. Meaning, they should fulfill the Torah NOT as the Ratzon Hashem. The point is not the fact that a mitzvah was a Mitzvah that the Yevanim did not like; rather, the fact that a Mitzvah was a manifestation of the Ratzon Hashem that the Yevanim did not like. They wanted to nullify chukei retzonechah.

On one hand, the seforim tell us that the Yevanim wanted us to learn Torah like a secular subject. On the other hand, Chazal say the Yevanim wanted us to write that we have no chelek b’elokei yisroel. Kefirah!

So which is it – did they want us to deny Hashem or simply to treat Torah secular?

The answer is they are one and the same. The reason Mitzvos are intrinsic “should” statements is because they are a manifestation of the Ratzon Hashem. By treating the Mitzvos – the Ratzon Hashem – as a secular science, you are thereby denying that the Ratzon Hashem is the stuff of which reality is made. By treating the Mitzvos like any moral or legal system, you are in essence denying the foundation of foundations – Ain ode milvado. Someone who does so, indeed has no chelek b’elokei yisroel.

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