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

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

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

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.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at