Kenneth Cohen

True Jewish Values

We are clearly living in a world where events are bigger than we can comprehend. There is great turmoil and uncertainty about the future. When it comes to offering solutions as to how we are to deal with life in 2020, many philosophies are being practiced today. Most of them do not seem to be working.

There are those who believe that life is all about feeling good and doing whatever it is that makes you happy. Happiness is the ultimate goal, although what makes you happy today, may not be true tomorrow. There are those who believe that anything goes, as long as you don’t get caught and get in trouble for what you are doing. And, of course, there are those who believe that tolerance and fighting racism, is the philosophy that will bring meaning to one’s life.

Many claim that they are experts at how Judaism teaches values and right and wrong. Often such claims are made without any substantiation from legitimate Jewish sources. In 1580 in Vienna, a book came out titled, “The Ways of the Tzaddikim” (righteous), that listed seven steps in living life in a way that will give a person great happiness and peace of mind. This book is referred to in Hebrew as “Orchot Tzaddikim”, and is viewed as an acceptable, authentic, Jewish source.

The first point that is made abundantly clear is that G-d is the ultimate Merciful One. There cannot exist a human being capable of more mercy than the Al-mighty. Since He represents the highest form of perfection, He must be perfect in mercy, as well. Anyone who claims he is more merciful than the G-d of the Torah, displays incredible arrogance.

The second thought that should pervade our thinking is that any monetary assets that we possess, is all from G-d. This includes gifts or favors given to us by relatives or friends. These gracious individuals, are merely acting as G-d’s messengers, for everything emanates from Him, and it is G-d that wishes that you receive these gifts. The messengers should be appreciated, but greater thanks should be given to the One sending the messengers.

The third thought to remember is that everything that we have, is undeserved. Entitlement has no place in Judaism. Humility is a trait that is emphasized over and over again. One must be humbled and grateful for all that he has. Nothing is a given. Everything comes from the graciousness of G-d. This is certainly worth remembering, especially when the world is being harmed by such feelings of entitlement.

A fourth realization is that we receive what we are destined to receive. We must do our best to try to earn a livelihood, but we cannot force things. Our return will be as determined by the One Above. Sometimes prosperity will come with relatively little effort, and poverty will come, despite great effort. This is the way of the world. We must accept this reality.

A fifth realization that should actually bring a person satisfaction, is that G-d sees and knows man’s true thoughts. This is gratifying for one who feels frustrated because his good intentions are often taken the wrong way. But it should be worrying to the insincere individual who constantly tries to manipulate people. The simple knowledge that G-d sees and appreciates true sincerity, is a very comforting thought.

A sixth point emphasized by the Orchot Tzaddikim, is that if we would like G-d to fulfill our hopes and dreams, it is obvious that we must act in a way that He approves of. The Ethics of the Fathers clearly write that we must make our will like His will, so that He will make His will like our will. Our overall behavior must be in a way that is pleasing to Him, as set forth in the Torah. We cannot expect the results we seek, if we do not fulfill our part of the deal.

And the final realization is that nothing in this world comes without hard work. There is no such thing as expecting instant results. If we want success, we must work very hard to achieve it. This true in all aspects of life. Being a good Jew takes hard work and discipline. Creating a good marriage and maintaining it, equally comes with hard work. The same is true regarding the various roles we play in life; son, daughter, father, mother, friend, employer, employee, etc. Work hard and you will achieve the results that you seek. Life is not easy, but there is great satisfaction in knowing that we did not stint in giving it our best shot.

Although this list was compiled over 400 years ago, it is a breath of fresh air. It reflects opinions of wisdom and sanity that is so badly needed during these troubled times. One should read and re-read each of these points and take them to heart. I guarantee that if these thoughts become your thoughts, your life and level of happiness, will improve greatly.

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