By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
In the beginning of his book “Mussar Kodesh,” Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook discussed the difference between Divine and human morality:
“Secular morality has no depth and does not enter into the internal nature of the soul... This teaching takes no stand against the attack of various lusts which might awake in strength, and it goes without saying that such weak morality cannot serve as a guide for the general human public in all its depth and broad experience, to penetrate into the depths of the soul – and to transform the hearts of individuals and the community into a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. There is no alternative other than being guided by Divine morality. ”
The same can be said about the difference between human justice and Torah (Divine) justice. Rav Kook discusses this in “Arfilei Tohar:”
“Social punishment, especially in terms of monetary damage, has two sources in the soul: one is good and the other is bad. The first one stems from the recognition that one should never do an injustice, and that one who does so must suffer so that the good attitude (that injustice must be avoided) will gain strength. The second source is a result of a selfish feeling. Another person should not benefit from what is mine or touch what is mine, because the feeling of something being mine and of myself is stronger and more powerful than anything else... The laws of the Gentiles almost exclusively stem from this crude second source...”
A student of Rav Kook’s words explained the above ideas as follows: There is legal justice, and there is moral justice. The theme of legal justice is: give every person what belongs to him! And the role (of the courts) is to enforce this idea, to protect everybody’s possessions from being attacked by anybody else.
However, moral justice (that of the Torah, which is Divine justice) is at a much higher level. It comes to mankind with demands based on the principle that man was created in the image of our G-d, and that therefore we must get rid of animal selfishness. We must rise above it and conquer our corrupting lusts, which destroy the glory of His status.
The main objective of legal justice is to protect other people from me, from my actions. This is not true for moral justice. In this case the main goal is related to me - to make me into a better person. (See: R.Z. Pinnes, Morality of the Torah and the Talmud.)
A similar idea was expressed by the Kli Chemda on the verse, “For justice belongs to G-d” [Devarim 1:17]:
“G-d wants to establish justice – that the judgement of the Torah will be applied to Yisrael. However, when Bnei Noach were commanded to establish courts of law, the reason was to make the world peaceful but not to apply the laws of the Torah.”
The first to write this was the Maharal of Prague in his book “Tiferet Yisrael” (Chapter 25). He wrote that all the mitzvot of the Torah are Divine and that the Torah is not a natural or behavioral religion, or “ Derech eretz (proper behavior) to maintain order... Rather it is Divine. All of its words are Divine, and therefore one who observes it has the privilege of having a place in the world to come.”
The purpose of the laws of the Torah is not simply to institute proper social relationships but rather to “guide us along the paths of mercy... so that we will remain pure in our souls... and to teach us good traits” [Ramban, Devarim].