Unfortunately, we usually cannot go a day without being reminded about terror and evil in our world. So we mustn't forget that we don't have to look very far to find people who are trying to make this world a better place. Today, a look at tikkun olam on the World Wide Web.
Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz of Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning explains that when people use the term tikkun olam, "they usually are referring to a set of ideas and actions in the realms of social justice, kindness to others, and environmental health that are intended to make the world a better place."
Schwartz says that this use of the phrase is a recent phenomenon but that its roots can be traced to both the biblical concern for the weak along with the kabbalistic teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria in the 16th century. Visit www.kolel.org/pages/reb_on_the_web/tikkun.html
Arthur Green of Brandeis University writes that tikkun olam is mentioned in the Aleinu prayer, which is recited three times daily.
"There le-takken olam means 'to establish the world in the kingdom of the Almighty,' or to bring about God's rule on earth." Green acknowledges that associating ideals like the relief of human suffering and the protection of the planet from destruction may be a recent innovation. But he says these goals are rooted in Jewish tradition that requires a concern for the "feeding, housing, and health, of all." Go to www.socialaction.com/ wordsmatter.html
In a fascinating essay titled "Tikkun Olam: Orthodoxy's Responsibility to Perfect G-d's World," Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, asks why there is no body of halachic law for tikkun olam similar to that for Shabbat or kashrut.
He suggests that it never evolved because "for two thousand years what chance did we have? For two thousand years we were dispersed, scattered, exiled, we were powerless…who in the world would think of learning from us?"
But he quotes G-d's blessing to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "Through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" or in other words, "Don't think this Torah that I am giving you is for you alone, it isn't — this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nation — because when they hear and see this way of life, this Jewish way of life, they will say what a wise, understanding people is this great nation." Go to www.ou.org/public/publib/ tikkun.htm
If you want to find a Web site to inspire you about the potential for good that people possess, you don't have to go much further than the Ziv Tzedakah Fund, a clearinghouse of projects that have come to the attention of the fund: www.ziv.org/
You can watch short videos about three tikkun olam programs that are run in Los Angeles: the Bet Tzedek Legal Services that offers assistance for a wide spectrum of needs such as Holocaust reparations and nursing home advocacy; Tikkun LA where Jews volunteer to help at the city's social agencies every Dec. 25; and the Hesed Center, a soup kitchen for Jews living in poverty in Ukraine. Go to www.jewishla.org/ caseforgiving/html/tikkunolam.html
You can also read up about some New England tikkun olam programs at www.vermont.com/ ruraljudaism/tikkun.html and some programs run by high school students in Port Washington, N.Y., at www.communitysynagogue.org/noar.html
And Tikkun Magazine also maintains a large Web site devoted to social change at www.tikkun.org
Repairing our world is such an overwhelming task that many people could decide that it's not worth trying. Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia tries to put the challenge into perspective.
He tells the story of a teacher who tore a map of the world out of a newspaper, ripped it into many pieces and then challenged his student to reassemble it.
"The student dropped to the floor and, in short order, completed the assignment by correctly taping together each of the pieces of the whole of the world…When the teacher asked the student how it had been possible to reassemble the fragmented world so quickly, the response was short and to the point. 'There was a picture of a person on the back side. I repaired that one person and the whole world got fixed too.'"
Go to www.clickonjudaism.com/ pages/tikkun_olam.html