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Rabbis' Blog

Tikkun Olam

Question: 

I have learned that the mission of a Jew in life is “Tikkun Olam” – repairing the world. On the other hand we are obligated with so many mitzvot that keep us preoccupied with ourselves, our family and community. How do these two ideas jive together?

Answer:

One can divide everything in life into two basic categories: Area of Concern and Area of Influence. The Area of Concern is rich and diverse. We all have opinions on world politics, commerce and sports. Many heated conversations center around policies set by lawmakers, the recent deals cut between mega corporations and the direction of education in our country. However, there is not much we can do about it, other than casting our vote in the ballot box.

The Area of Influence encompasses that little neck of the woods we call our own: Our daily schedule, the obligations to our loved ones, interpersonal relationships with our neighbors and co-workers, etc. It is in this area that we have the greatest influence and the greatest challenge. I believe the challenge is due, in part, to the fact that the daily grind of life seems inconsequential. We wonder what difference will it make in the grand scheme of things?

Enter Tikkun Olam. The Hebrew word “Olam” (world) is etymologically linked to the Hebrew word “Helem” (concealment). At creation, G-d concealed Himself from His handiwork. Our physical reality does not give off the impression that it depends on a creator and has a purpose. Quite the contrary, one can conclude that life here on earth is simply a limited amount of time to exist and one should take advantage of the available pleasures for as long as they last.

Our mission is to “repair” this concealment, to reveal the inherent divinity in all of existence. This is accomplished through Torah study and the observance of mitzvot.

A great Chasidic Rebbe once asked his students, “Where is G-d?” His response: Wherever you let Him in. Each time we do a mitzvah we allow creation to reflect its Creator and the “Great Concealment” begins to erode. This starts a chain reaction as every mitzvah has a ripple effect.

Tikkun Olam is the task of bringing ourselves and the entire world to a new state of awareness, one deed at a time. We must begin with the Area of Influence and this will eventually affect the Area of Concern.

A wise man once shared the following reflection on life. “In my youth I dreamed of changing the world for the better. As I moved on I set my sights on improving the state of my nation. At mid-life I settled for running for city council. As I began losing my strength I hoped to influence my family. Now I realize I needed to start with myself.

Always bear in mind the teaching of Maimonides: One should always view himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others.

Changing the world starts at home.

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