A few months ago, I heard about a very busy professional who truly took her faith to heart. Full as her schedule has always been, this woman committed herself early on to making a serious difference in the world. Though her occupation immersed her in public service, she felt impelled to do more than what was required of her in her workplace. I eventually learned that this woman was of the Jewish Faith and that the concept ofTikkun Olam (Tee KOON oh LUHM) inspired her to repair the world around her as best she could. Since I have a propensity to try to fix things, I decided I had much to learn from this wise person.
I was already familiar with the Jewish concept of mitzvah. Over the past few years, two young neighbors prepared in earnest for their Bat Mitzvahs. They studied the Torah carefully in order to read those sacred words with understanding and without error on their special days. They also refined their understanding of their faith and put it into action by doing good deeds for others. These mitzvahs were visible signs of the progress they’d made as they aspired to become devout Jewish women. Today, the girls’ younger brother is engaged in the same rigors as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The woman I’d heard about continues the work she began at her own Bat Mitzvah through her current efforts.
Tikkun Olam is new to me. These words are Hebrew for “repair the world”. Though scholars of the Jewish faith can certainly explain the history of this term far better than I, for this writing I’m relying on the current understanding of many devout Jews. They view Tikkun Olam as a challenge. This concept inspires them to do as much as possible to repair the world in meaningful and lasting ways. In the process, these good people hope to make this world all that God intended it to be. While each of them engages in good deeds, they do so strategically to ensure that their efforts have lasting impacts. Busy as the woman I read about is, she takes her faith to the next level. She allows her faith to give purpose to everything she does. Her efforts make a world of difference to many.
I share all of this with you because you and I are also challenged to repair the world. Our call begins with encouragement in a passage from Sirach (Sirach 15:15-20). The writer insists that if we trust God we will live. If we truly believe this, we work to improve this world because the outcome which awaits us all is worth our effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encourages his followers to do as he has done by relying upon God’s wisdom rather than the wisdom of the world. When we think as God thinks, we cannot help transforming this world into God’s image of what it should be.
When I read this passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), I couldn’t help laughing. I wondered if Jesus was driven by the same concept which spurred on the woman I’d heard about. Was Jesus referencing Tikkun Olam? Just as this woman continues to do more than what is expected, Jesus called his disciples to do the same. Jesus listed the commandments one by one. Though the crowd before him had heard these precepts countless times before, Jesus reinterpreted their meaning. Jesus explained that it was no longer enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The scribes and Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples breathed in the meaning of these precepts, Jesus knew they would be impelled to do even more. Today, Jesus asks us to absorb the spirit of his teaching as well. Like that wonderful Jewish woman who is repairing the world as best she can, Jesus invites you and me to do the same.
We need only to stream the daily news, pick up a newspaper or click on our televisions or radios to assess our world’s need for repair. Sometimes, we can look in our own backyards to find the same. It seems to me that the ancient Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam had a very necessary place in Jesus’ world and it has a very necessary place in our world today. It’s up to you and me to repair the world one good deed at a time.
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