Does God Create Evil?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: I need some help understanding Rambam's analysis of Isa. 45:7. ("Guide for the Perplexed," Chapter 10, Pages 265-267, Dover Publications.) Is Rambam saying that since G-d can only create good that evil exists only because of His creation of good as an opposite? Thus, G-d can only be attributed as the creator of evil in an indirect way? Since all of G-d's creations are only positive in form, and evil is a negative, then evil can come about only because of the absence of good? Sort of rambling, but I think you may get my understanding of the subject or lack of? Shalom.
Mesora: When we hear such questions, we sometimes feel qualified to offer our opinion. But without consulting God's knowledge graciously revealed through the Torah's words, we most assuredly miss the mark. It is crucial that our knowledge be formed and continuously guided by reason. This is the purpose of both the content and structure of the Torah. Not only regarding the knowledge of true and false, but our moral system is objectified by the Torah, without which, there would be no objective "right" and "wrong". We see then how essential it is that we consult God's Torah in our attempt to arrive at absolute truth.
Maimonides approaches the question of "Does God create evil", as he does all questions; with a careful analysis of the Torah's choice words. You must follow his line of reasoning. Although a little technical, it will illuminate this topic.
Different definitions of "Create"
Prior to reviewing the Torah's text, Maimonides clarifies a misconception of the word "create". He quotes the sect of Mutakallemim who viewed blindness and deafness as positive properties, thereby considering them actual creations of God. Maimonides demonstrates their error via analogy: One who removes an obstacle to another's motion, is in some effect "creating" motion. Similarly, one who removes a building's supporting pillar, in some way "creates" the cieling's downwards motion. Although in both cases, the person's action was applied to the obstacle and the beam respectively, and not to "motion". Nonetheless, we say that the person acting on the obstacle and beam is a "creator" of the resulting movement. In the same way, one who removes light from a room, is said to have created darkness, although darkness is not something real, as is light. Darkness is merely that which is leftover when the light is removed. One may be called the creator of darkness in this sense, although nothing positive was created, as darkness has no positive existence.
Having shown this clear and valid distinction between two types of creation, i.e., real creation of a positive entity, and 'termed' creation of things such as darkness, Maimonides continues to examine a Torah passage dealing with this issue: Isaiah 45:7 states, "I form the light and create (boray) darkness, I make (oseh) peace and create (boray) evil..." Maimonides points to the distinction of the different words applied to light and darkness, peace and evil. Regarding light, the word used is "yotzare", which means to form one thing from already, existing matter. The sun was made from a material already in existence, therefore the term "yotzare" is employed. However, when describing the "creation" of darkness and evil, the word used by God is "boray", which refers to acting on nothingness, as in "In the beginning, God created (boray) heaven and Earth". Here too, God was creating our world from nothingness, so the word "boray" is use to teach just this point. The rule is that when God relates to nothingness, the term "boray" is used.
When this passage says God created "boray" darkness and evil, it means he created it in the following sense: He is the cause of darkness and evil only in as much as He created light and peace which can be removed - leaving darkness and evil. The fact that God does not create darkness as He creates an object is clear: He only creates positive entities. Creation per se means to affect a real object in some way. When there is an object, it can be spoken of as having been created. But darkness and evil are not positive entities, how then can one act on that which is not positive, but merely a privation? Creation is a force which causes something new to emanate as a positive entity, such as creation of the Earth, the Sun or any other real, object. But darkness is not an object, and therefore it cannot be created.
"Evil" has No Real Existence
Maimonides then moves on to demonstrate what "evil" is. He shows all evils as privations, and not positive entities. Evil is termed as that which is lacking - it is not positive. For example, it is an evil that man is poor, or hungry, or blind, or ignorant. And in all these cases, the evil is where man has not achieved financial success, he has not eaten, he lost his sight, or he never became wise. The evil in all these cases is the deprivation of some real, positive object. Therefore, these evils were not created, because evils are not really in existence. They are terms denoting the lack of real positive entities as food, wisdom, or wealth. For this very reason, Maimonides teaches that the term "and it was good" is used in Genesis in reference to creation on each day. God only produces real existence, and all existence is good. All God's ways are good. God cannot create evil, as it cannot possibly be created.
I assume many might have expected the answer to take a much different course, perhaps more debative of the possibility of viciousness in God. However, we are guided by Maimonides' truthful analysis of the very terms "create" and "evil", and the passage noted, until he elucidates their true meanings. We conclude that God cannot be the creator of evil.
The problematic theory that God creates evil vanishes, leaving a void - a void not "created", but descriptive of a place where there once stood our question.

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