38 Shabbat Shuva lessons from a tangent by Radak
Chananya Weissman

September 25, 2020

Tehillim 146:3 says as follows: “Don't trust in the generous, in human beings, who do not have salvation.” We say this every day in our morning prayers.

Radak writes as follows: “If not for the will of God, it is not in the hands of Man to save his fellow from his trouble, for salvation belongs only to Hashem, and He will orchestrate it through people.”

This is a straightforward explanation that is shared by the other commentators.

Radak then goes off on a striking tangent: “Just as He orchestrated the salvation of the Babylonian exile through Koresh, and so in the future He will orchestrate the redemption of Israel through the gentile kings; He will awaken their spirits to send them [the Jews back to Israel]...and this will be because the Jews in their exile trusted only in Hashem.”

This is yet another clear source that the modern return to Israel, which was orchestrated through the miraculous consent of the nations (something they have been repenting ever since) is the divine will. Those who insist that a return to Israel is illegitimate or theologically irrelevant until Moshiach arrives and open miracles occur are sorely mistaken.

The fact that the majority of Jews who unwittingly heeded this divine call were not spiritual role models does not invalidate the divine call or the salvation contained therein, which religious Jews must embrace. Israel is the real deal and Jews should return en masse. It's not yet everything you want it to be? That's part of your job. Come home and make it better.

It is also noteworthy that Radak chooses this as his example for the lesson of the pasuk. We would more instinctively think of a sick person going to a doctor, a pauper seeking charity from a rich person, or an accused person standing before a judge that their salvation is really in the hands of God alone. Radak takes this opportunity to remind us that our national salvation is also in the hands of God alone.

Too often we get lost in the constant feed of news updates and political machinations, and may lose sight of the fact that politicians and world leaders are little more than marionettes in God's hands. It's easy even for educated, religious Jews to forget themselves and believe it's a matter of playing the game and pushing the right buttons. No such thing. All the exterior trappings are merely a cover for the divine will, which we can only influence through teshuva, tefilla, and tzedaka.

The Jews who stubbornly remain in exile by choice must internalize Radak's message, that the redemption in our times mirrors the redemption of the Babylonian exiles.

The Jews who have already returned to Israel must internalize the second message, that the furthering of our redemption will not be achieved by playing political games or trusting in human elements here or abroad. Such machinations lead us only to outsmart ourselves and delay the redemption process. We must do only what the Torah indicates in each situation, put our trust only in God, and let Him run the world.

Two timely examples:

1) Our ability to daven with a minyan, let alone in shul as we were accustomed to, has been severely curtailed. Religious Jews have expended great efforts to daven as normally as possible in light of the ever-changing restrictions, and have lobbied politicians for restrictions to be relaxed wherever prudent. How much effort have we spent beseeching Hashem to remove the curse and restore the privilege of davening together normally?

2) For all the virtual ink that has been spilled on Halachic minutiae related to the coronavirus (which I do not intend to devalue), how much have we delved – as a tzibbur – into the underlying spiritual causes of this plague and its effects? In past generations the primary response to plagues would be for the community to publicly examine its ways and attempt to rectify its failings.

Today the mere suggestion that anything is a divine punishment invites scorn and censure even from “religious” Jews, and any attempt to connect a problem to a precise sin (as opposed to vague calls for us to be more kind, etc.) receives heated condemnation. This fear of offending the overly sensitive and over-reactive among us guarantees that we will fail to uncover the spiritual cause of our problems, let alone collectively address them.

Claiming that we cannot understand God's messages denies God's ability or willingness to send us messages we can understand, obviates the point of divine messages, and dooms us to even harsher messages. There is no Torah basis to feign humility when tragedies occur and claim we cannot possibly decipher their cause; on the contrary, both individually and collectively it is our duty to keep searching and trying until we get it right. At worst we might fix a problem that is unrelated to the situation and be forced to identify other problems as well.

It is well past time Jewish communities all over the world got together, honestly examined their collective ways, identified glaring shortcomings, and resolved to rectify them together. Even if we cannot be sure that we will correctly identify the spiritual cause of the plague – and this is something we should pray for – we can be sure that our efforts will get Hashem's attention like little else and arouse divine mercy.