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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

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GENESIS — 1:31 very

For man to be man he must maintain the delicate tension between self and society, between personal privacy and public relationships.  Mediating between them is the family. Judaism is concerned with all three aspects of man’s existence. It addresses itself to the question of his psychic and spiritual life, his dignity and destiny.  But its major concern is with the quality of man’s relationships to the world around him, and these are usually developed within the family.  This emphasis on family and community may best be understood in terms of the way Judaism treats the very beginnings of man.  The Bible offers two accounts of creation, each giving a complementary insight.  In the first, a rather general report, things are created day after day until we come to man, who is seen as part of the natural order.  True, he is singled out as created in the “image” and “form” of the Creator; but he is essentially accepted in his natural settings: his lust for power, his reproductive function, his hunger and his appetites. G-d commands him, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and master it” and rule over its creatures.  Within this context not only is man’s creation good, but … very good.  [this verse].  GOODSOC 4  [Comments continued at 2:18 GOODSOC 4]
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

Jewish thought perceives not only human existence, but all of creation as being characterized by polarity.  …. Each entity depends upon and derives meaning from its polar counterpart.  Without down, there cannot be up. Without evil, there could not be good.  As one medieval text put is, “G-d made each thing and its opposite … All things cleave to one another, the pure and the impure.  There is no purity except through impurity” (Midrash Temurah in Agadat Bereshit 1876, 49)  According to the late-nineteenth-century Hasidic master Zadok of Lublin, even a specific halakhic decision implies the validity of its opposite (1903, 9b).  The presence of such interdependent yet polar opposites also characterizes the realm of the human heart.  As the Zohar states, “Good issues from evil, and compassion issues from justice, and all are intertwined, the good inclination and the evil inclination, right and left … all depends upon one another ... otherwise, the world could not exist for even an instant” (1883, 3:79b).  In the human heart, described by the Talmudic rabbis as the source of reason and emotion, G-d implants both the good inclination (yetser ha-tov) and the evil inclination (yetser ha-ra) (see, e.g., Schechter 1909, 255). How a person utilizes these inclinations determines the moral quality of his or her behavior.  Not only the good inclination, but the evil inclination as well is candidly described by the talmudic rabbis as having been created by G-d (see, e.g. Berachot, 61a, Genesis Rabbah, chap. 14:4). In itself, the evil inclination (yetzer ha-ra) is not necessarily evil.  However, it becomes evil when it is misused.  Otherwise, paradoxically, the evil inclination is considered good.  For example, commenting on [this verse], a midrash observes that while the good inclination is good, the evil inclination can be considered very good, because without it human beings would neither build a house, nor marry, nor beget children, nor engage in commence (see Genesis Rabbah, chap. 9, sec. 7). In other words, without the basic human drives and ambitions engendered by the evil inclination the perpetuation of human civilization would become endangered (see, e.g., Rashi to Sanhedrin 107b). The stronger a person’s evil inclination, the greater the individual’s potential for greatness.  As the Talmud says, “the greater the person, the greater their evil inclination” Sukkot 52a.  The evil inclination is not only responsible for sustaining human civilization, but according to Judah Loew it is the catalyst for making manifest the divine image in which human beings are created (see, e.g. Jacobson 1987, 102-36).  Paradoxically, through sinning, Adam demonstrates that human beings are G-dlike in that they are morally independent beings.  Yet, by making manifest the quality of moral volition that human beings share with G-d, human beings simultaneously alienate themselves from G-d through sin.  The human task then becomes reconciliation with G-d through the performance of the commandments, the cultivation of the moral virtues, and repentance. (see, e.g. Weiss 1969, 213-30, 347-50; c.f., Guide of the Perplexed, bk. 1, ch 2, 24-25).    SHER20C 151-2
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

Rabbinic Judaism believes that man was initially endowed with good and evil tendencies Berachot 61a.  As a rational being, he must convert his evil impulse into a constructive force to serve the needs of society. In a midrashic interpretation of the Pentateuchal verse “And G-d saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” [this verse], a rabbi alleged that “everything” is inclusive of the evil impulse. Had it not been for the evil impulse (lust), man would not take a wife, he would not procreate, and he would not establish a home. Shochar Tov on Ps. 9:1. One must therefore learn to serve G-d with both impulses, the good and the evil. Berachot 54a. BLOCH 203
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

The mitzvoth are indeed for spiritual cleansing.  We live in a world of temptation and brutality.  Our senses are constantly assailed by a barrage of banality and obscenity.  Our mass media seek largely to cater to the lowest common denominator, the worst instincts and interests.  Who knows how much of the invidious “fallout’ is absorbed by our nature? Exposed to so much “dirt,” we need frequent cleansing with “a strong detergent that has deep-down cleansing action” (to borrow or paraphrase some of Madison Avenue’s scintillating language).  The Almighty wanted Israel to be cleansed and pure; and so He gave us a comprehensive Torah and surrounded us with mitzvoth. The Talmud tells us that in the days of Ezra the Sages prayed that the evil yearning to worship idols, which was still strong at that time, should be removed from the world; and their prayer succeeded.  Emboldened, they entreated further, that the power of the entire yetzer hara, man’s evil inclination, be ended forever.  And the Talmud relates that the sensuous inclination was given over into their hands, to do with as they chose.  But a prophet warned them, “Beware: if you destroy this, the entire world will be destroyed.” They decided to render the yetzer hara powerless for three days.  But that very day they learned their lesson: A fresh egg was needed to help cure a sick person; and in all the land of Israel no fresh egg could be found. For with the evil inclination removed, all passion and drive to cohabit and procreate came to an end, the reproductive function ceased, and chickens even stopped producing eggs!  Perforce the Sages gave the yetzer hara its freedom once again. [Talmud, Yoma 69b, Sanhedrin 64a].   Later Sages, in the days of Talmud and Midrash, affirmed this idea. Scripture writes, “G-d saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. [this verse]. And the Sages comment: “Very good refers to the yetzer hara. But is the evil inclination very good, then? Indeed, for if not for the yetzer hara [passion, lust] no man would build a house, marry, or beget children; nor would anyone engage in trade.” [Midrash Rabbah, Genesis IX, 7]. SINAI1 14-5
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

The basic Jewish economic ethics argument can be summarized by the following approximation: What is apparently “evil” can be an instrument of “good” and what is apparently “good” can be an instrument for “evil.” This is demonstrated both in the area generally referred to as “Business Ethics” and also in “Philanthropy.” We begin with a Midrashic text which investigates the biblical formulation in [this verse] (G-d’s words after the creation of Man/Woman): [This verse]. The phrase “very good” is unique in the Creation narrative since after the other creations the text just states: “it (was) good” (ki tov). In the early rabbinic Midrash on Genesis called, Genesis Rabbah 9.5, the rabbis, using the interpretive message of word-play, interpreted the Hebrew word m’od (“very”) by a similar sounding Hebrew word mot (“death”) and stated: “In the teaching of Rabbi Meir they found written: ‘… and, behold, it was very good.’ and behold, death is good.” This type of rabbinic interpretation of unique phraseology and word-play is common in rabbinic texts and reveals an underlying method for ethical investigation of good and evil. The unusual formulation after the creation of the human being is that it was “very good” [this verse] and was seen by the rabbis as an area to express ideas which they held were basic to their concepts of good and evil. This argument approaches a “meta-ethical” argument [Such as those raised by Socrates in the Crito and the Euthyphro, for example] because the rabbis saw the Divine “very good” stamp of approval upon human creation as marking something beyond the “good” which was associated with all other creations. Also, the concept of “very good” distinguished the existence of something which was distinct from “good.” This distinction led the rabbis to speculate as to what was just “good” and what it was which characterized “very good.” In the continuing Midrash interpretation of [this verse] in Genesis Rabbah 9:7 it states the following: “(Rabbi) Nachman in the name of Rabbi Samuel (stated that [if it were written] ‘behold, it was very good’ [it would only mean] the good inclination.” ‘And, behold, it was very good’ is the evil inclination. And is it possible that the evil inclination ‘is very good?’ Yes, for if it were not for the evil inclination, a man would not build a house, and he would not marry and he would not have children, nor would he engage in business. Thus Solomon said [in Ecclesiastes 4:41]: ‘Again, I considered all labor and all excelling in work, that it is a man’s rivalry with his neighbor.’” The “and” here is used by the rabbis to indicate an additional part of man which was “very good” (tov m’od). Again, the rabbis are playing on the word m’od. This time they apparently assigned the meaning “power” as in the rabbinic translation of mo’d in Deuteronomy 6.5. Mishnah Berachot 9:5; Sifrei on Deuteronomy 32:5 Making the rabbinic translation of [this verse] and: “… And a behold, it [had] a power (m’od) (for) good.” Meaning that the created human being contained a power which could be used for good, but which was essentially an evil characteristic. It is not engaging in business which is evil according to this view, but rather a specific characteristic of business which can be inherently detrimental and human relations, in general, and in business in particular. Specifically, the text provides an insight into this evil characteristic evident in some types of business relationships. This relationship is characterized by competitive rivalry (described in the Ecclesiastes proof text) which, while promoting excellence, creates friction and contention among neighbors. Will Herberg, commenting on this Midrash, states the following: “No matter where we look or how far back we go, we find man engaged in great enterprises and we find him motivated by the passionate urge to self-aggrandizement that we have learned to deal with as the ‘evil impulse’ (yetzer ha-ra). So impelled, he creates technology, brings forth institutions, establishes civilizations and engages in all that is characteristic of social life.” W. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man (New York: Atheneum, 1970) pp. 212-213. According to Herberg, the characteristic of self-aggrandizement is the evil power which can be used for creative or destructive purposes within society. Self-aggrandizement or in other words, total egoism, was seen by Herberg as the root of the problem of evil in the world in general, but also the necessary motivator for good. This attitude places the individual at the absolute center of his/her existence and converts the world and others in society into objects which serve and revolve around them. Natural resources, children and neighbors are only objects which serve the needs of this individual. It is no wonder that the rabbis saw the control of the individual’s yetzer ha-ra as the solution to the problem of economic and social justice. It is clear from other rabbinic texts that a “work ethic” was stressed by the rabbis and even could be vehicle for holiness. Abot D’Rabbi Nathan, 9:1 (22b). It is also clear that the engaging in business, and work, in general, were seen by the rabbis as neither inherently good nor evil, but vehicles for doing good or evil with methods which could be either good or evil. BT Berachot 17a, Shabbat 31a.
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

We, the people of the holy Torah, we believe that the Lord created everything as His wisdom directed, and that He created nothing that was ugly or shameful.  Were we to maintain that sex is obscene, we would have to say that organs of generation are obscene.  But this cannot be, for the Lord, may His Name be exalted, created them, as it is said, “Has He not made you and established you?” Deuteronomy 32:6. And the Sages said in the Talmud Hullin 56b that G- d created man so that only in this manner can he perpetuate himself and survive.  And the Midrash (to Koheleth 2:12) teaches that G- d and His heavenly court, as it were, considered each organ of man and had to approve it before creation.  Were the sex organs dishonorable, how would the Lord have created anything faulty or blemished or contemptible? Did not Moses say of Him that “the Rock—His work is perfect” Deuteronomy 32:4? And did we not learn that “and G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good” [this verse]?  GOODSOC 105
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GENESIS — 1:31 very good

As the ethics of a religion that strives after sanctification of life rather than its suppression, Jewish Ethics does not set itself up in invariable opposition to nature. Much that is natural and material is good. Indeed, according to the Genesis account, the whole of creation was appraised by the Creator as very good [this verse]. Nature’s laws are viewed as divinely implanted. The laws that control heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, the sea and the deep operate also in the lives of men.  The laws of the Torah have their counterpart in the laws of nature.  Such, for example, is the law of retribution. Genesis Rabbah I:1. Leviticus Rabbah, Behukkotai, ch. 35:1ff; Tanhuma, Genesis I,1.   At the same time, the rabbis recognized that the moral laws cannot always be identified with the laws of nature. A man steals a measure of wheat and sows in his field. From the standpoint of the moral law, the wheat should not grow, but nature pursues its own course in total oblivion of the legitimate or illegitimate ways in which the grain was secured. Avodah Zarah 54b Furthermore nature has to be curbed before it serves the purposes of man. It is cruel, destructive and wasteful of life. The typhoon and the earthquake, the tiger and the python are parts of nature as well as man. The laws governing them obviously cannot apply to human beings. Human life itself is torn between conflicting tendencies. Savage instincts are no less real than good impulses. Cannibalism, murder and bestiality are matched by self-sacrifice, charity and humanity. Egotism, avarice and lechery exist by the side of altruism, generosity and self-discipline. Tendencies of destruction thwart the dependencies of construction. The passions, while neither good nor evil in themselves, may be employed as instruments of either godly or satanic ends. In other words, morality is the creation of man and represents the flower of his reason, conscience and religious spirit.  While for analytical purposes ethics is content with the study of the springs of human behavior and their expression, for practical ends of directing the lives of men, it is more exacting. Not what is being done, but what ought to be done constitutes its measure of value. Whereas science speaks in the indicative mood, religion uses the imperative. Its characteristic expressions take the form of commands and prohibitions, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. COHON 108
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GENESIS — 1:31 very good

In Germany, the Reform-Conservative movement was powerfully influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The Word of G-d was identified with the “Categorical Imperative” of the moral law, and Judaism was now described as “ethical monotheism.” It is our ethical conscience that reveals to us the One G-d. At the same time, Moritz Lazarus (1824 – 1903) expounded the ethics of Judaism as the endeavor to comply fully and in all domains of life with the moral-rational law. On the unity of the religious quest for holiness and the ethical aspiration for rightness, Lazarus made these observations: …  The problem of evil can be solved only by pointing to the opportunities for good that every evil offers -- particularly, in a social context. In the first half of the 19th-century, ethical investigators were occupied, in fact, they tormented themselves with the question of absolute evil. The fundamental thought of the system of social ethics that the Rabbis had in mind as an ideal offers an escape from absolute evil. When men are in close association with one another, evil must yield to some good in spite of itself. … the Rabbinic notion is that misery and distress exist chiefly to be alleviated by the good among men. They differ as to strength, possessions and events of their lives, “So that love and beneficence may have the opportunity to translate themselves into acts.” Exodus Rabbah 31 The thought herein developed… contains a true theodicy-true because ethical. Here we have an attempt, found nowhere else, to solve the problem of the divine sufferings of sin. As a rule, this toleration was excused on the plea that man’s morality must be the creation of this free will-a view that in a measure considers it a necessary evil, which certainly is not a worthy conception of the Divine government. The Rabbis virtually makes sin itself a constituent element of chastened morality, and so the Rabbinical interpretation of [this verse] is completely justified—“And behold it was very good” – “good,” that is, the Impulse for Good, “very good,” that is the Impulse for Evil [very good, in this sense of providing the chance for superlative achievements]. The Ethics of Judaism, volume II, chapter 5.  Lazarus’ conception of the rule of evil is paralleled by a famous saying of the founder of Hassidism, namely, “Evil is the foundation for the good.” Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, d. 1960. AGUS 263-8
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GENESIS — 1:31 very good

In order to feel self-esteem, we must appreciate our accomplishments.  On six occasions in the opening chapter of Genesis, the Bible informs us that G-d was proud of what He had created.  For example, “G-d saw all that He had made, and found it very good.”  Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 31 The text’s unusual repetition of this phrase makes it clear that G-d took pleasure in seeing that His work was good.  In contrast, there are many people who seem to feel guilty about, or who are reluctant to take pleasure in, their accomplishments; instead they minimize them so as to make them seem insignificant.  Like G-d, however, we should be pleased to take pleasure in our accomplishments and good works, and be even more pleased knowing that we have reason to believe that those good works are pleasing to G-d.  TELVOL 1:240
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