Tikkun Olam

“Surprisingly well,” I told Lisa when she asked how my dates with each member of our old high school group had gone.

When I finally met up with each of my old buddies, it turns out they weren’t interested in dwelling on my shortcomings or the hardships they had faced since last we’d seen one another. I had been worried about re-hashing the negative, but they were eager to tell me about the good things. Nina was nearing the end of her training to be a counselor. She wanted to talk about the teenagers she works with and her animal rescue work and the dog she adopted. She mentioned her boyfriend who had died, but only to tell me that she still stayed in touch with his daughter from a previous relationship.

At the museum, I wandered over to the area where the Tzedakah pinball machine continues from the floor above. At this level, it becomes something called the “Tikkun Olam House.” From my reading, I know that Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world” and is a fundamental concept in Judaism, perhaps even the most fundamental—the reason each of us is here. Each time a person does something good or follows one of God’s directives he or she contributes to the ultimate goal of Tikkun Olam. This display’s size and central location suggests that the lessons provided here could be more important than any other, the primary message kids are meant to take away from this experience.

A window at the top of the house asks, “Where is your help needed?” A series of backlit boxes reveal cartoon suggestions of beneficiaries: communities, other people, the earth, animals. At the very bottom, low enough for the tiniest tots to paw, three big slots await tokens. The first slot has a picture of a dollar so that feeding it is meant to represent giving money. Another slot is labeled with a clock, proposing a second option for what you might offer: time. But it’s the middle slot I find most interesting. It sports a big bright ball with beams radiating out. To put your tokens here is to give something akin to your energy or your light. Maybe it means giving both time and money, but it transcends these categories because what you impart is even more personal. It’s your attention, your focus. It could be listening to stories of hardship, helping a person carry the burden of heartache, but it’s just as likely to demand something that our human natures can make difficult: celebrating other people’s good fortunes. Deb’s paintings, Becky’s little boy, Nina’s accomplishments helping others—my friends had wanted nothing more from me than to share in the joy of their unique contributions. I marshaled a positive force from the depths of my heart and soul and made a curious discovery: the more light I shined on their joy, the more joy I felt.

I asked Lisa’s daughter Sydney to make one last stop with me before it was time to leave. It’s an exhibit that recreates the Western Wall, the only part of the original temple in Jerusalem that still exists. Here, it is called the Wishing Wall; blocks that look like old, weathered stones have been affixed to a regular wall. Just as I’ve seen in pictures of the real deal, small scraps of paper are stuck between the stones. A nearby table has a stack of small papers that invite us to, “Draw or write your wish for the world and place it at the Wishing Wall.” I tell Sydney to put her wish down and I’ll do the same. We’re quiet for a few minutes as we concentrate, and then Sydney shows me what she decided on. In the box provided she’s written, “More play dates with friends.” I laugh because mine’s not so different really. I want joy, for me and my friends. I don’t want to focus just on the sorrow; I want to help repair the world by shining my light on all the good too. Then Sydney and I fold our wishes into fat little squares and add them to the wall.

9 thoughts on “Tikkun Olam

  1. Ritual comes in many forms. I, too, have stuck my wish for the world in the original wall of the temple in Jerusalem. I enjoyed the vibrations around me of a young man celebrating his bar mitsvah carrying the Torah which was decorated, next to a Rebi with colorful dress and women chortling with the sounds off their tongue and people milling around with yalmakas on their head and the young Hassidim men in black bending back and forth rhythmically towards the wall moving the curled hair on each side over their ears. I felt in the middle of an inspired world and people. The consciousness of faith is everywhere.

  2. Corinna. I think yours and Sydney’s wishes are common to most people. Its one thing to be satisfied with yourself, whether materially or spiritually. But I think most of us have an inner striving to touch others in positive and affirmative ways. Maybe that’s where much of out spiritual drive comes from–the idea our sense of life’s worth is dependent, to some degree, on how we connect with others. That’s really the idea behind the Golden Rule–that we have an obligation to treat others as we treat ourselves.

  3. I love your topic here because the Bible is filled with the idea of personal purpose and contribution. You can go back to the beginning and see it. God gifted people and they were to use their gifts to bless each other and establish culture. In the OT you can see artisans, craftsmen, musicians, writers, priests, leaders, herdsmen and gardeners blessing everyone by their work, and caring for God’s world. The NT says this:
    “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:4-10).
    It resonates with me, because of how good it feels to give and make a needed contribution..There’s also the idea in both Judaism and Christianity (OT and NT) that God works in partnership with us, making so much more of what we do than is possible by our own efforts alone. But that is a whole nuther topic as they say…

  4. “I marshaled a positive force from the depths of my heart and soul and made a curious discovery: the more light I shined on their joy, the more joy I felt.” I LOVE THIS!!! It really resonates with me. The passage that Ginger quotes reminds us to do nothing halfway, to give it all we’ve got, and that’s what you did. My particular gift is encouraging. There’s a big difference between when I’m just going thru the motions, saying what sounds nice, and when I “marshal a positive force from the depths of my heart and soul”. I don’t know if the person I’m encouraging can tell it, but I sure can! I can feel the joy all the way down to my toes. Now I know it’s because I contributed to the Tikkun Olam.

    • Shelley, I think the work of bringing forth an authentic joy does make a difference–and not just to the person for whom you are marshaling it. According to Tikkun Olam, it’s a step in repairing all divisions that exist. I love that.

  5. Corinna, your post reminded me a little of anticipating a high school reunion. I know several who never came because of whatever reason…too often worried about old hurts or whatever…instead of simply sharing life and joy now, together at a different stage of life. I’m excited for you and share your joy as you share the joy of your friends.
    LIke Frank, I was able to go to the “real deal” and place my prayer in between the blocks. The setting certainly was surreal….countless young men bent over a copy of the Torah reading/reciting, a constant drone of devotion to God. There were little boys and old men, some who were sitting at small tables as they read. It was an amazing scene. I was there after visiting spots on the borders, aware of the sense among the people that enemies surround the nation. Even at the Temple Mount, where we visited the Dome of the Rock and the site of the ancient Temple, one could sense the tension between moslems and Jews and the uneasy peace of sharing a place of worship. Young men waited around on benches as though expecting something to erupt.
    I’ve never experienced anything like it.

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