God is Good


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: Assuming the things (actions, etc.) that God does or ‘believes in’ are good, are they “good” because God ‘thinks’ so…or is God good because He does these good actions? If we can for a moment forget about the anthropomorphisms, does anyone have a clear answer to this question that follows both logic and Torah ideas independently? I understand God doesn’t ‘think’ or ‘believes in’ things per se, which is why I put it in quotes. What I meant was simply that we say that God is good and the actions He does are good. So the question is this: which is predicated on which? In other words, are the actions God does good on their own merit of some sort, and since God does them, “He” is good; or do we define good by what is done by God?

Mesora: This is an important issue and I am glad you raised it. Only the latter possibility can be true. That possibility being: what God does, is by definition, “good”. To suggest the former – that actions are defined as “good” separate from God – is to suggest that there is something other than God that determines what is “good”. But since God created everything, then He alone determines its value, be it good or evil. Nothing other than God dictates what is good or not, and all things follow God’s definitions, with no authority or ability to differ. Accordingly, God does not ‘follow’ some good action, and this somehow makes Him good. This is how man works: he is born ignorant, learns what is good later on, and then follows it. To suggest God mimics man’s feeble framework, suggests that an act is good of its own nature, without God’s designation. But that is impossible, for God created everything, and therefore, He alone defines all that is “good”. We will soon see this last idea is an essential part of a verse in Isaiah.

As always, God includes in His Torah all fundamental truths, and this discussion regarding what is “good” is no exception. However, God’s Torah is a deep science, and cannot be fully appreciated with a cursory read. His verses are cryptic, containing literal truths, which also point to additional, profound, underlying principles. It is only with the method of Torah and Talmudic deciphering that we might uncover those concepts.

Isaiah 45:6,7 says: “In order that those (people) shall know, from the east of the sun and her west, that there is nothing but Me, I am God and there is no other. Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil – I am God doing all these things.” With these words, God declares exclusive responsibility for everything, “There is no other.” But He also says He creates evil. How do we understand this?

Radak and Maimonides explain that evil is merely the absence of good, just as darkness is the absence of light. In as much as God created peace (good), when man does not follow it, (i.e., unwarranted war as Radak cites) then evil exists. But evil itself cannot be created, as it is not a positive thing. God is also not the cause of evil in an intentional sense: it is man. Maimonides explains that creation cannot apply to that which is a negative. Another example is sickness: it cannot be created, for it is merely the absence of properly functioning organs. It is only the organs that can be created. Darkness cannot be created, for it is merely the absence of light, but the light’s source can be created. And evil cannot be created, for it too is merely the absence of goodness or peace. What can be ‘created’, must be a positive entity. It is impossible to create an absence. That is illogical: I cannot create a “lacking”. Only once a positive thing is created, then its removal can exist. But one cannot “create a removal”. Creation is of a positive thing. Thus is a subtle point, so I feel repetition is necessary.

God did not “create” darkness, but He created something positive, light. Subsequent to its creation, its removal is what we term darkness. In that sense, God created darkness. Similarly, hunger cannot be created, but a stomach and nerves can be created, which, when empty, will sense hunger. This explains, as Maimonides teaches, why the term “yatzar” is applied only to light and peace in our verse, for these are real creations. (See the Hebrew of the verse) But darkness and evil are termed “bara”, which does not imply positive creation, rather, a causal relationship. God is the creator of darkness, in as much as He created light with the ability for it to be diminished.

Now, as mentioned earlier, God alone defining all that is “good” is an essential part of a verse in Isaiah. The end of our verse reads, “I am God doing all these things”. It expresses an important idea, but it also seems redundant. God just told us He created all these things, i.e., light, darkness, etc. Therefore, we wonder why He needed to say, “I am God doing ‘all’ these things”. What more is added?

I suggest that God’s exclusive role in creating everything, is precisely the reason why all other things (peace, evil, etc) have these definitions: God’s act of creating something gives that thing its unalterable definition. So when God tells us at the very end of the verse, “I am God doing all these things”, He means to say, “My ‘exclusivity’ in the creation of everything is the precise reason why something is either peace or evil.” Since God alone causes all, He alone determines its value. Nothing else might override the Creator’s intent. If I create a chair, another person cannot suggest it is really a table, since I alone brought it into existence for an objective and with design; I alone define its role. Here too, God is teaching us that al creation receives its truth definition, be it good or evil from God alone. For nothing else exists that contributed to its creation, thereby defining its purpose and role.

In Genesis during each day of creation, God said, “and it was good”. Rashi asks why on the second day, God did not say “and it is good” as He stated in connection with the other days. Rashi answers that due to the incompletion of the waters, ‘goodness’ could not yet be ascribed to them. But on day three, when the waters were completed, along with another matter that was commenced and completed, the term “good” is used twice, each instance of “good” correlating to one of the two completed matters. Rashi proves his point well. Rashi explains that when something is completed, it is called “good”. This teaches us what the term good means: “good” refers to anything that has arrived at its objective form and purpose. Now, as God decides whether something exists or not, He alone determines when it has reached its completion. And when it has, then it is called “good”.

Thus, we learn that we must replace our infantile idea of good, with the true idea. “Good” does not mean that something conforms to our notions of good vs. evil. Good means that something exists as God wishes. Thus, when creation was complete for that day, it was “good”: the created entity of that day was complete as God planned. When man lives in accord with the Torah, man is good. He is acting in line with God’s intent.

And we can also go so far as to say God is good, with this understanding. We learn that God’s perfection is a good, and all His actions are good. There is no deficiency in Him, or in the actions and creations, which emanated from Him, since nothing could cause any deficiency or ignorance in Him. When He creates something, it is good, as it reaches its objective. God defines what is good, and not that He follows what something else defined as good. There is nothing else: “I am God and there is no other”. (Isaiah 45:6)

What is good, equates with what is real and true. It may take something getting used to, but we must update our definitions so that they conform to reality, not to our subjective feelings. We conclude that all that exists is a reflection of God’s will: nothing as God created it is lacking in anyway, so all of creation is fulfilling its objective, and what we call good. And since God is the source of all that exists, we say that He too is good, meaning, He is reality. What is real, equates with what is a good, fo God would not will that which is harmful, as learned by studying creation, His actions towards man and animal, and His just Torah laws.

Finally, of what necessity did God say in connection with each day, “and it is good”? What need in the Torah is there to include these words? I believe this teaches us that there is nothing that could prevent God’s intended creation from reaching their objectives. This teaches that God is the exclusive Creator, and nothing opposes His will. God stating each day “it is good” emphasizes this notion, that all reached its objective, all exclusively due to God, unimpeded by anything else, for there is nothing else.

We learn that an essential idea in Creation is this idea that God is the “Exclusive Cause” for our universe, and our very existences. For without this notion, we imagine falsehoods, and enter the world of idolatry. So important is this idea, God said it each day, and Maimonides includes this in his fourth of his 13 Principles: God preceded everything.