Q. Why do we need to be told, “Love your fellow as yourself; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:18). Why does God have to come into it?
A. In theory human beings might arrive at ethics on their own, either out of careful reasoning or because experience teaches them that any society needs rules. Nonetheless the Torah constantly insists that morality is morality because of God. With God, morality has:
1. objective standards which do not waver according to the time or the regime,
2. a paradigm (God’s goodness defines human goodness),
3. stability (God does not cease to be),
4. inspiration (love of God draws us to His will),
5. the power to turn a sinner into a saint,
6. if necessary, reward and punishment (though it is best to do the right thing for its own sake).
Yes, an unbeliever can be ethical, but there are so many problems in an ethics independent of God that there is a good case, especially in our generation, for applying to God the plea often found in rabbinic literature, y’lamm’denu rabbenu, “Teach us, O Master!”