This I Believe
There is a concept known as “Tikkun “Olam”. This is a Hebrew expression meaning “…the healing or perfecting of the world.” It is not at all uncommon for a bit of Hebrew text from the Talmud or similar source to be susceptible to two translations. In this case I take it to mean that to heal the world is to perfect it, as well. In what has come to be a traditional saying, Rabbi Tarfon said: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the job (of perfecting the world); but neither may you shirk from it.”
I understand this to mean that it is possible for the world to be perfected only if every person, in each generation, does his part, contributes his effort to the good.
Rabbi Tarfon spoke his now-famous words in the second century of the Common Era. Through the centuries men and women of good will, persons of every religion, every nation, every color have made their contribution toward “Tikkun Olam”.
Throughout human history, many great men and women have contributed to “Tikkun Olam”. I am thinking of such great names as Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein, and many others. Some were not so well-known, yet their work has been important. These might include Martin Buber, Martin Marty, and Thomas Cahill.
Mostly, though, the work of perfecting the world is carried on by the millions of men and women who are not famous, and who do not even consider that what they are doing is part of this essential process. These are the people we all know, the ones we think of as “saints”, though they would not consider themselves to be such.
“Tikkun Olam” is more that a Jewish tradition or even Jewish theology. It is, fundamentally, a condition of our humanity. It may rightly be questioned as to the possibility of actually perfecting the world – though, like most of life, the effort is of greater import than is the result – but there can be little doubt that the reverse is true. Should we give up our efforts toward “Tikkun Olam”, the human condition will surely be diminished.
I believe in “Tikkun Olam”. I see it every day. I saw it in my parents, both now deceased. And, though I frequently fail, I continue to try to do my part in the work of perfecting the world.
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