Value systems, for the most part, are social contracts. In different areas of the world, at different times in history, people assigned value to a wide variety of standards. In most places, at most times, material wealth was a way for people to measure a person’s success or failure. In some places, at other times, talents such as the ability to excel in sports or entertainment were considered the measure of a person’s worth. Level of intelligence is another yardstick used by society to grade a person’s performance.
Such grading systems would make individuals feel pride and satisfaction when they heard themselves described by phrases such as, “He’s worth millions,” or “She’s a genuine genius, top of her class.”
These standards, however, not only vary from place to place, they gain and lose importance according to social change. What’s valued today may not be worth even a pittance sometime in the future.
When a value system is not developed by society but is, rather, a G-d-given scale, then change is not in the offing. What’s good today is always good and what is not acceptable will never become permissible.
So, too, with human beings. The type of individual who fulfills the Torah’s standards of sterling behavior is living as did successful people in the past. Morals, character traits and deeds attest to adherence to timeless values. True worth is not subject to changes in society’s man-made values. “What he’s worth?” is accurate only when measured against Hashem’s grading system. One who is considered “good” today would be successful in any age. One should study the ideals put forth by our Sages and train oneself to become a Torah personality. It’s a lifelong project, but well worth the effort. Timeless values withstand the changes of the times.
One More Second: Another Thought for the Day
There is no comparison between doing something with enthusiasm and joy, and doing something without enthusiasm and joy. If we would do everything with enthusiasm, there is no limit to the elevated levels we would reach. Enthusiasm generates power. A person with enthusiasm is able to overcome laziness and pursue wisdom and higher spiritual levels. (Harav Simchah Zissel Ziv, Chochmah U’mussar, vol. 2, p. 172)
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.