Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
In temple I’ve been hearing the phrase tikkun olam. Can you tell me
what it means and how to do it? I’m too embarrassed to ask my locals.
Dear Simple Son:
Tikkun olam literally means repairing the world. The imagery comes
out of the mystical tradition, which says that in the beginning, when
the Divine essence came into the world, it was poured into vessels, the
spheres on the Tree of Life. The vessels could not hold HaShem’s pure
energy. They shattered, and the Divine sparks were scattered
throughout the universe, into every living thing: you, me, every critter
and blade of grass. Now it’s our job, as conscious, caring beings, to
gather those sparks. To create wholeness. To create the world to
come, whether you believe that means a literal messiah or simply a
happier and more just reality for us all.
The concept translates into big ideas like social, economic, and
environmental justice. Also into smaller daily actions, like telling the
truth and helping your neighbor. Tikkun olam is about saying No to
evil, in forms large or small, and saying Yes to goodness, equity, and
compassion. It’s a responsibility that each of us carries, and
sometimes we forget to honor. Tikkun olam is about transcending the
immediacy of personal desire. It’s about shifting your focus, and
raising it higher. To me it always comes back to two aspects of
consciousness that are simple to say but harder to do: live with
greater awareness and greater intention. Living on a higher plane gets
tested by bad politicians or even long lines at Costco. Remind yourself
regularly that what you do makes a difference. Recognize when you’re
living up to your moral standards and when you’re not. Know your
values. Know what you can live with and what you’re willing to stand
up for and against.
How to put tikkun olam into action? Pay attention. Speak. Act. Practice
healing yourself and the world in as many ways as you can each day.
If we all practice tikkun olam, perhaps we can avoid more Holocausts
and more 9/11s. Perhaps we can diminish homelessness and hunger in
our communities. Perhaps we can cultivate a greater global
consciousness rather than staying stuck in our small tribal minds. If we
all do that, we’ll heal ourselves, and this place we call home.