Proof: no tikkun olam without G-d

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In his post, “The Hijacking of Tikkun Olam,” Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote, “Tradition always understood that any human attempt at effectively remedying the world is doomed to failure.” In response, reader Gershon Josephs asked, “I had not heard of this tradition. Do you have a source for this?”

Because so many people, it seems, have never heard of one of the main foundations of Jewish tradition — namely, the principle that we can accomplish nothing without G-d’s help — I hereby supply three Biblical sources in answer to Gershon Josephs’ request. I hope that these will spread through the ether like a good virus.There are many more, scattered throughout the Torah and Talmud, but these will do for a start.

Tehillim 127:1 “If Hashem will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it; if Hashem will not guard the city, in vain is the watchman vigilant.” (Psalms)

Devarim 15:11 “For destitute people will not cease to exist in the land; therefore I command you, you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor, and to your destitute in your land.” (Deuteronomy)

Yeshayahu 2:1-4 “It will be in the end of days…they will beat their swords into plowshares…nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare.” (Isaiah)

To a Torah Jew it is a truism that we are obligated to do what we can to alleviate suffering and bring peace to the world — that is what chessed is all about — and equally obvious that we can accomplish nothing without Hashem’s help. We must therefore daven and keep His mitzvos and do everything possible to stay on His good side and merit His help.

War will never cease until Moshiach comes. Only then will all weapons be turned into peaceful tools, not before. For now, as long as there are evil people and evil nations in the world, the good people and the good nations cannot disarm, no matter how much they long for peace.

There is no possible social or economic arrangement that will eradicate all poverty. America has come as close as any country in history has ever come — our “poor” people suffer from obesity and diabetes, for goodness’ sake! — but poverty can NOT be completely eradicated. Only when Moshiach comes will this change. The verse I quoted from Devarim is explicit in saying that there will ALWAYS be poor people and for that very reason the mitzva of tzedaka will ALWAYS be applicable.

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18 Responses

  1. One Christian's perspective says:

    But why do you assume God is not involved with liberals and secular tikkun olam?

    More to the point, why do you assume that the Liberalism of the last 200 years – a movement that increased exponentially in this world the measure of human happiness, and human freedom, while also dealing a death blow to the false gods of Christianity – was carried out without God’s providence?

    Comment by Long time reader — May 7, 2007 @ 11:11 am

    Long Time, it seems that this brand of liberalism is idolatry where man serves himself for his own happiness and freedom. G-d is not part of their scene. The god they serve is self.

    The writer of Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the L-RD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” This is how the righteous live.

    G-d is sovereign over all things. He may allow evil for a season and for a reason but he will not allow the ungodly to go without punishment.

  2. Heshy Bulman says:

    Re: Well-intentioned Secular Liberal attempts at Tikkun Olam – May I ask why it was that the building of the Tower Of Babel was not given Divine assistance? Was it not a sincere attempt on the part of “President” Nimrod to protect mankind from another Flood? For that matter, should not Noach be condemned for having selfishly built his little ark when he could have taken an active role in at least trying to prevent “Global Raining”? The problem with an emphasis solely based upon the physical salvation of mankind, while completely denying the relevance of G-d and His Law (the very adherence to which is critically necessary for the continued existence of Mankind), is that it is akin to “ignoring the elephant in the room”. One does so at one’s own peril.

  3. Shlomo says:

    Holy Hyrax (and Bob Miller):

    Of course it is good that “Reform, atheists, liberals” are fighting poverty or whatever instead of watching TV all day. It is equally true that they still must commit themselves to the Torah.

    Their moral actions do not release them from the responsibilities of the Torah, while their lack of commitment to the Torah does not invalidate their actions.

    They are certainly halfway to where they should be. Equally certainly, they are not entirely where they should be.

    As Orthodox Jews who are committed to both keeping the Torah and fighting injustice (of course, there’s considerable overlap between the two), we must recognize the 50% which they have achieved, and at the same time hope that they soon succeed in achieving the remaining 50%.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    HH, please reread what I actually wrote.

  5. Holy Hyrax says:

    Um Bob,

    Reform, atheists, liberals or whatever going out trying to help other people in what ever way is a BAD thing? I never said DON’T have God or his commandments in your mind. I am simply stating that who are we to judge peoples attempts at doing good in this world. An Atheist’s action will be judged alone on its good merits, not how it fits within the OJ spectrum. The good that people do around the world should always be commended and not brought down as some futile attempt.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Holy Hyrax is wholly confused.

    It’s better to do more right things more often than fewer right things less often.
    It’s better to do right things with HaShem and His commandments in mind than without. This is also a reality check against doing bad things with good intentions, which commonly happens in modern society.

  7. Holy Hyrax says:

    Tobi, I can hardly count those as proofs. Maybe arguments, but not proofs.

    While the first one is interesting, I believe the other two work against your point. God does not say that because there will always be needy people you should stop giving. No, you must continue, do all you can do. This is regardless if one keeps mitzvot or not. If someone does not believe in God, should he at least not strive to help his brother or neighbor? Do you not think that God will judge each and everyon along side with their cause on their own merit?

    Your quote in Yeshayahu is irrelevant. Should we really stand idly by for the massiach to come or should we do some part of it ourselves. Your quote is only discussing war. What about other facets of tikkun olam such as educating impovrished regions. Should we stop that too because Massiach is not here yet. How do you even know Massiah will only come when Jews do mizvot? You do realize the likelyhood that all Jews will keep mitzvot is very low, so should they not partake in some other good cause that God ALONE will judge?

    >We must therefore daven and keep His mitzvos and do everything possible to stay on His good side and merit His help.

    And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward

    Sometimes there is a time to pray, and sometimes there is a time for action. And is this why you pray and do mitvot, to be on his good side? I usually use say that to my landlord or boss. With God, I prefer to have a relationship. A relationship is often quite complicated. I sometimes go for long periods without davening or doing mitvot, so does that mean I should not help the world. Is God going to say “Eh eh eh, you dident put tfillin on today, so all your endevors to help others around you will fail” ?

    There are alot of like minded people. Reform and liberals also believe in God and I am quite sure he will judge them on their own merits alone and not because they dont follow the orthodox standard.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    We still have problems with the social disintegration and (literally)demoralization instigated by followers of the false gods of liberalism.

  9. Noam says:

    The Torah gives a good example of a endevour without the approval(and in fact the express disapproval) of God. After Moses informs the people of Israel in the desert that they will not inherit the land of Israel(because they dispaired on recieving the report of the spies), they people start out on their own to conquer the land. Of course they meet with utter defeat.

    However, the liberal Jewish notions of Tikkun Olam coincide frequently with objectives of Traditional Judaism- feeding the poor, taking care of the environment(yes, that is a Traditional Jewish value), economic and political opportunity, and many others. Of course, some of these notions that are put under Tikkun Olam are actually antithetical to Traditional Judaism, usually sexual orientation issues and abortion on demand issues(although here too there are nuances).

    We also have the midrash of Nachshon. God did not part the sea until Nachshon waded in up to his nostrils. God seems to demand or request human participation. In fact, ain somchim al ha-ness- we are not supposed to rely on miracles. And to throw in one more concept, lo alecha ha’melacha l’gmor, v’lo ata ben chorin l’hipater m’mena- you dont have to finish the job, but you are not free to not engage the job.

    What we have in total is the concept that we have an obligation to do what we can for the world- which is actually the liberal version of Tikkun Olam. And, one would assume that when the liberal Tikkun Olam coincides with Traditional Jewish values, the Divine smiles on the effort. Just because this view focuses exclusively on a physical Tikkun Olam, while leaving out the Traditional spiritual Tikkun Olam(which is also very important), doesn’t mean that it is bereft of value, and ignored by God. And, just because it isn’t being done by Orthodox Jews doesn’t mean that it is bereft of value. And, just because it focuses only on the physical Tikkun Olam doesn’t mean it is bereft of value and not worthy in the eyes of God.

    side note: Perhaps the Conservative and Reform should use a different term rather than Tikkun Olam, that way it would not be confused with the definitions that have been associated with the term over the centuries. By not suffering from the comparisons that the term evokes, the Reform/Conservative “tikkun olam” efforts can then be seen simply as the effort to do good deeds that they usually are(with the exceptions noted above that are antithetical to Traditional Judaism).

  10. Long time reader says:

    But why do you assume God is not involved with liberals and secular tikkun olam?

    More to the point, why do you assume that the Liberalism of the last 200 years – a movement that increased exponentially in this world the measure of human happiness, and human freedom, while also dealing a death blow to the false gods of Christianity – was carried out without God’s providence?

  11. SM says:

    Doesn’t this explicit politicisation of religious outlook pose three real difficulties?

    Firstly, it risks driving away about half the population who may think that Torah has nothing to offer them because it espouses a view of how people should relate to each other with which they profoundly disagree.

    Secondly, it suggests that Judaism believes in a God who cannot influence everybody – a direct denial of an ompnopotent God who is active in the lives of individuals.

    Thirdly, it elides the difference between political power and religious influence. Power is coercive. Influence is persuasive. For almost all its existence Judaism has been persuasive. We emphasise the right choices and commitment – both of which are simply irrelevant if you can be compelled to behave in a certain way.

    Moreover, the issue of tikkun olam is probably most relevant today in terms of global warming – which is going to kill millions of people unless we can devise ways to accomodate it. That means giving up material things – like huge cars, draining electronic items and air travel (bring back those shalosh regalim!). That is (in the US – Europe is utterly different) almost entirely a liberal agenda.

  12. Gershon Josephs says:

    “Any human attempt” MEANS “any solely human attempt” —any attempt that assumes humans on their own can change the world”

    “Any human attempt without G-d’s involvement is doomed to failure. Hence, the liberal idea of secular tikkun olam is doomed to failure.”

    But why do you assume God is not involved with liberals and secular tikkun olam? Especially nowadays, when the Chazon Ish proclaimed everyone to be tinok shenishbah, God may even help Atheists if their hearts are in the right place. Are you seriously claiming that God only helps Orthodox Jews be successful in their endeavors?

  13. Toby Katz says:

    “” This is far from saying ““Tradition always understood that any human attempt at effectively remedying the world is doomed to failure” “”

    I addressed that in my comment #2 above

    Any human attempt without G-d’s involvement is doomed to failure. Hence, the liberal idea of secular tikkun olam is doomed to failure.

  14. Gershon Josephs says:

    hank you for addressing my question, however I must agree with the first comment above. All your sources indicate that we need God’s help. This is far from saying ““Tradition always understood that any human attempt at effectively remedying the world is doomed to failure”. On the contrary, human attempts, done genuinely, would presumably gain God’s help and would be successful.

  15. Toby Katz says:

    “Do all we can do” is the right and proper job of every Torah Jew.

    “Fix the world by voting for liberals” is a huge step in the wrong direction, is a false definition of tikkun olam, and can only be counter-productive if your wish is to make the world a better place.

  16. NLG says:

    Sacks’s book is fantastic. I’m reading it now, and it’s extrordinarily inspiring.

    The fact that we cannot accomplish these things absent help from Hashem, which in turn presupposes deep abiding faith in Hashem, does not eliminate the requirement that we do all we can. To lean too far to one side or the other is extremist, mistaken and tragic. I suspect that for every one who forgets that we are not called to perfect the world on our own as a purely human endeavor, there is one who forgets that we are not called simply to pray but also to do.

  17. Toby Katz says:

    “Any human attempt” MEANS “any solely human attempt” — any attempt that assumes humans on their own can change the world

  18. mb says:

    “We can accomplish nothing without God’s help” is very different from

    “Tradition always understood that any human attempt at effectively remedying the world is doomed to failure”

    I don’t think you answered the question.

    Try reading Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks “To Heal a Fractured World”