I am always mindful of snippets of thoughts and words, ideas, beliefs that ignites something in me that may grow to become a blog post. This week it was a term I heard on NPR in a segment I was barely paying attention to. The flow and poetry of the words “Tikkun olam” caught my ear. I had missed the meaning while lost in the attention required by maneuvering through traffic.
Of course, when I got home, I began the search for the meaning of the word. The phrase is first found in the Jewish Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings compiled in the 3rd Century. The current and generally understood idea of Tikkun olam is that of “repairing the world” through human actions. It implies that humanity has a powerful responsibility to change, improve, and fix its earthly surroundings. Tikkun olam teaches that each person has a hand in working towards the betterment of his or her own existence as well as the lives of future generations. Tikkun olam calls people to responsibility, to take ownership of their world. In some writings the interpretation includes the obligation to “finish” the ordering, the blueprint of the world….God did not finish everything. God left famine, disease, etc. with the mission being for man to “finish” the work. The work of bringing about the end of injustice, disease, poverty, starvation, human strife.
(While this is a Jewish term, a Jewish teaching, I am not concerned with which religion says what, teaches what, in order to compare the value of one religion to another. It is not my intention to compare religions to determine which one is better, or the right one. I am interested in what all religions say and teach as a means of understanding human beings on this planet. Different cultures have heard God’s words and calls in many different ways and through many different people. I am not a religious scholar by any means, but I am compelled to learn about all religions in order to learn and to understand. I find it thought provoking to read about different religions and then to stand back and observe where we are as a world society in relation to exemplifying what “we” are “called” to do through our religion, and the degree to which we are being successful or not.)
It is a call to heal the world on all levels. I find that a powerful thought. A daunting responsibility. First it presents the idea there is something not quite right, something that needs to be and can be fixed…bettered, improved, healed. And then it calls us to take action, responsibility to do so. It includes the relief of human suffering, striving towards peace and mutual respect among all peoples, and the protection of the planet from human disregard, neglect and destruction.
“When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.”
Ithaca NY, where I was raised and still live, was also the home of Carl Sagan for many years. Perhaps best known for his TV program, Cosmos, in 1980, he was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. Here is a visually beautiful, intensely provoking video based on his book The Pale Blue Dot.
We have to wake up. To take a stand to heal this world of ours, on all levels. There is so much healing to be done. We “have to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot. The only home we have ever known.”
“The visions we offer our children shape the future.
It matters what those visions are.
Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Dreams are maps.”
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
What visions are we offering our children? Listen to the news. That’s what we are offering. Are these the self fulfilling prophecies we really want to set in motion for our children?
Consider this, a piece of the concept of Tikkun olam:
“Or consider a story in the Jewish Talmud left out of the Book of Genesis. (It is in doubtful accord with the account of the apple, the Tree of Knowledge, the Fall, and the expulsion from Eden.) In The Garden, God tells Eve and Adam that He has intentionally left the Universe unfinished. It is the responsibility of humans, over countless generations, to participate with God in a “glorious” experiment – the “completing of the Creation.”
The burden of such a responsibility is heavy, especially on so weak and imperfect a species as ours, one with so unhappy a history. Nothing remotely like “completion” can be attempted without vastly more knowledge than we have today. But, perhaps, if our very existence is at stake, we will find ourselves able to rise to this supreme challenge.”
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
What do you think? Can we rise to the challenge? Can we repair, heal the earth in all aspects? Are we able to take a long hard look at ourselves both as individuals and as a species? Are we ready to stand up to heal the physical world we live in and say no to blatant destruction and disregard for the planet? We speak for Earth. We are the only ones who speak for Earth. Are we ready to deal more kindly with one another? Who speaks for the human species? Who indeed. Are we ready to accept the challenge of “completing the Creation”? If we are not able to work towards completing it what will happen? If we continue on this path what will happen? We are an “organism at war with ourselves.” (Carl Sagan.)
“On our small planet, at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history.
What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants.
It is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well.
If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance.
But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.”
Let’s make these words these words the self fulfilling prophecy for our children. Let’s begin the process of healing, repairing…completing the world with these words:
“But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence,
our technology and our wealth to make an abundant
and meaningful life for every inhabitant
of this planet.”
Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, available on Amazon