Progress and Accountability

The reign of King Solomon is considered by many to be the most glorious period in all of Jewish history. These were the “Camelot” years where there was peace and prosperity in the land. Israel was the envy of the world and its king was admired by all for his great wisdom and leadership. He was a benevolent king but did not tolerate any civil disobedience. He made it clear to the nation that if they observe the laws, they would succeed and would receive G-d’s abundant blessings. If they failed to abide by the rules, all of the blessings would fade. Tragically, it was Solomon’s own failings that led to the end of his kingdom. Today, we have returned to live in our beloved Land of Israel, but we do not have the security and peace that we so desire. Many believe that a solution to our current situation is to try to create an opportunity for the poor Palestinians living in difficult conditions, and give them economic opportunities. If they were able to have some hope for a better life, they would abandon terrorism and the world would be a better place. This view is also held in the United States as a solution to help those living in the ghettos. If they had a real chance of succeeding, their hopelessness would not lead to violence and crime. The assumption to this view is that since we live in a modern sophisticated world, people will make the right choices in how they will live their new lives of hope and opportunity. One of the main problems of this approach, is that it minimizes accountability and assumes that man is inherently good. Any society that does not have rules for determining right and wrong, and is unable to enforce those rules, will ultimately fail. Dennis Prager said it best in a recent article; “Material poverty does not cause murder, rape, or terror. Moral poverty does.” It appears that this solution for fixing the world’s problems, was already tried and it failed miserably. Let’s look at the middle class of the United States of America as an example. In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans were given the ability to educate themselves, create their own businesses, and progressively enjoy more and more affluence. Each generation lived on a higher and higher standard. At first, wealth was measured by owning two cars. Then it was measured by two homes, and then fancier vacations, to the point where the opulence knew no bounds. But what happened to moral values when people took advantage of what America had to offer? As people had more leisure time and more money, they became more and more self indulgent. There has been a breakdown of families with soaring divorce rates, innumerable cases of infidelity, and a crumbling of moral values. Man had the freedom to choose and most of the choices led to drug and alcohol abuse. Free speech has glorified pornography and free expression of any idea where there is nothing sacred. Movies and television leave nothing to the imagination. Has all of this openness led to safer cities and more happiness? This is the problem when people are lacking in values. The value system that is taught today is either one of, “if it feels good, it must be right.” Or, “anything is allowed as long as you don’t get caught.” This is what happens when there is no accountability. People make bad choices where they sink to lower and lower levels. Admittedly, there are a handful of Noahs out there, who somehow have a built in system of right and wrong. They weather the flood of immorality, but most people when not held accountable for their actions, fail and fall. Rabbeinu Tam, a twelfth century Torah scholar, wrote in his book, Sefer Hayashar, that man has to overcome his tendency towards lust. He lists nine types of lust that one needs to be aware of, so as not to succumb to their lure. There are lusts for food, drink, women, wealth, domination, one’s conduct in business, how one dresses, his mode of transportation, and a lust to pamper one’s body. Human nature has not changed even with all of our sophistication and technological advances. The invention of the internet is a case in point. The wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, gives no excuse for ignorance. Yet, there are choices that one needs to make as to how to use the internet. Many marriages have been destroyed because of pornography addiction, not to mention how children at a young age are also exposed to the negative side of the internet. It is said that even when the printing press was discovered in the fifteenth century, the first two items printed, were the bible and pornography. Our sophistication and advancements do not turn us into better people. Accountability and setting definite definitions of right and wrong is what builds a person. It appears that the Land of Opportunity, known as America, has not become the Land of Morality. If we take a step back and look at the world situation from the standpoint of where does one get guidance as to how to live his life in a meaningful way, it is not out there. We must face the facts that all of the permissiveness in today’s society, is not turning people into righteous individuals. On the contrary, people are sinking to the low level where their lusts and desires must be satisfied immediately. In short, whatever has been tried in the last half century is not working. And on this backdrop, are we so naive to believe that economic opportunity and education is going to fix everything? Where will proper behavior be learned? Sadly, a view that is widely held by many of the enlightened generation, is a mocking of religious people who hold strong to their beliefs. They are ridiculed as people who are primitive and are unable to think for themselves and they have to lean on their spiritual leaders for guidance. When all is said and done, we need to accept that there is no system in the world that comes close to the ethical teachings of Judaism. Maybe we ought to dust off the Torah that so many have rejected and give the Judaism that has taught the world right and wrong another chance. The closeness to G-d and the strict adherence to the commandments, was the secret of the success of King Solomon’s reign. The next time we go to pray and we sing the song when the Torah is returned to the ark, “Renew our days as of old,” we are to long for a return to our former glory. Our rabbis tell us that this prayer is referring specifically to King Solomon and his reign. Sophistication and progress is not what leads to a happy, meaningful life. Accountability and good old Jewish values is what will lead us to the peace and security that we so desire.