Can You Be a Good Person Without G-d?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
It seems that dipping is an important part of the Seder of Pesach. We dip the vegetable in salt water, and we dip the bitter herb in Charoset. I know the salt water represents the tears shed by the Israelite slaves, and the Charoset represents the cement they were forced to make. But I am looking for something deeper about the dipping. Any leads?
The Israelites in Egypt suffered greatly. And while we can never fully understand the meaning of suffering, the Kabbalists have taught that sometimes we suffer in one lifetime in order to correct something from a past life. And this was the case with the Jews in Egypt.
The great Kabbalist known as the Arizal taught that the Israelites in Egypt were reincarnations of two previous generations - the generation of the Great Flood and the generation that built the Tower of Babel. This is why we see clear parallels between them. Just like the generation of the flood, Israelites were drowned in the Nile River. And just like the builders of the Tower of Babel, the Israelites had to make bricks and build buildings.
Reincarnation is the system of correcting past wrongs. Those two generations did evil, but in different ways. In the times of the flood, people were violent, dishonest and corrupt. Their sins were primarily against their fellow human being. In the times of the Tower of Babel, however, they treated each other kindly. Their sin was against G-d. They believed that humanity can exist without a higher cause. Their tower was intended to take over the heavens and supplant divine power with human power.
These two mistakes are still made today. There are those who believe that you can be a good person without being religious. As long as you are nice to people, as long as you don't hurt anyone, you are a good person and don't need a higher authority in your life.
There are others who believe that as long as you pray to G-d and follow religious rituals, it doesn't matter how you treat other people. You can be religious without being good.
Both are wrong. Being religious without being good makes no sense at all. If you love G-d, then you love His children. Every human is made in G-d's image, and so you cannot honour G-d if you dishonor humanity. You can't pray to the G-d that tells you to love your fellow as yourself and then treat your fellow like dirt.
But the other way is wrong too. You can't be good without G-d, because without G-d, the word 'good' is meaningless. There can be no such thing as absolute good without an absolute source. If morality is relative, then it can be defined however I want it to be. There can be no objective definition of right and wrong, only opinions. And without absolute morality, without an ultimate definition of good and evil, we each just fit morality into our preconceptions. Anything can be justified.
The Israelites were the first to recognize that living a divine life means living a good life, and to know what good is you need G-d. Unlike the generation of the flood who disregarded human decency, and unlike the generation of the Tower of Babel who rejected divine authority, the Israelites survived Egypt to establish a new society based on G-d-given goodness.
And so we have at the Seder table a reminder of these two misguided generations, the salt water that commemorates the floodwaters, and the Charoset that represents the bricks that built the tower. We have seen the tragic consequences of dividing between G-d and good. We must ensure that the two never part.
Source: Arizal Shaar Hapsukim Shmos