All is not right with the world (4)

Maimonides begins his discussion of the nature of rah with the idea that our very physicality acts as a partition between ourselves and any ability we might have to perceive abstract notions (like “good” or “evil”, in this instance), and most especially of perceiving God’s being. That’s why, he says, the prophets spoke of God being surrounded by obfuscating vapors, darkness, and thick clouds, as when it was said that “clouds and darkness are around and about Him” (Psalms 92:2), or when it was said that God “made darkness His secret (hiding) place” (Ibid 38:12) [1]. The implications is that God’s ways in this world are likewise covered-over and out of sight, the most significant being His relationship to rah.

Then he offers this opinion: that rah unto itself doesn’t exist — so-called rah can only be said to exist in relation to certain specific things and phenomena, rather than on its own. We only term death, poverty, illness, and ignorance “bad” because all of these things are adversities and undesirables, he asserts. In other words, such things are “bad” in our eyes, but they aren’t intrinsically or necessarily so (after all, isn’t death sometimes a relief to the anguished; and don’t poverty, illness, and ignorance oftentimes offer unexpected moral and spiritual benefits, notwithstanding their vexations?).

That being so, he asserts that God isn’t responsible for rah per se — He created existence, to be sure, where instances of “bad” exist, but He didn’t go out of His way, if one could say as much, as to create bad. Everything there is exists, as he words it, “for the good, for the permanence of the universe, for the continuance of the order of things, and so that one thing will depart and another to succeed it” [2]. And if relatively “bad” things occur in the process, he implies, well, then so be it.

Most wrongs and instances of injustice are things brought on by humankind itself, because of its ignorance about the truth of things [3] which leads to all kinds of disgraceful actions and traits. But he makes the point that there are far more instances of goodness in life than not, and that “the many ‘wrongs’ that people experience are due to their own faults… (That’s to say that) we suffer from the ‘evils’ we inflict upon ourselves with our free will, and we ascribe them to God”! And he suggests that there are thus three overall sorts of rah in the human experience: the kind that’s inherent to our being physical beings and thus subject to all sorts of natural consequences of that; and the kind that we inflict upon each other or ourselves [4].


[1]       Moreh Nevuchim 3: 9.

[2]       Ibid. Ch. 10.

[3]       Ch. 11.

[4]       Ch. 12.

(c) 2012 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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