November 10, 2011
Republished with permission from Behrman House.
Perhaps you have a life partner or a partner in business. You and your dance partner may burn up the floor. Your child chooses a partner for a class game. But what does it mean to be a "partner with God"?
The Torah tells us to "Walk in the ways of the Almighty" (Deuteronomy 13:5). But how is such an awesome task possible? The Talmud in Tractate Sotah says that we can accomplish this by emulating the traits of the Holy Blessed One. For example, just as God clothed the naked Adam and Eve, we should provide clothing for those in need. Just as God visited Abraham after his circumcision, we should visit the sick. Just as God fed the hungry Israelites when they wandered in the desert, we should feed the hungry. In other words, just as tradition teaches that God showed compassion and continues to perform countless acts of kindness for humanity, we should have the same compassion and feel the same responsibility for other people. In this way, we become partners with God in God's creation.
The concept of tikkun olam (Hebrew for "repairing the world") stems from the Kabbalistic (or medieval Jewish mystical) notion that, before creation, God's Presence filled the universe. At creation, God's Divine light was contracted to fill vessels, some of which shattered and cast debris into the world. According to the medieval Jewish mystics, called Kabbalists, it has become people's role to repair the vessels by gathering the lost shards and sparks of Divine light. Tikkun olam, then, represents people's responsibility for bettering the world. This value involves both fixing broken social mechanisms in the world and repairing spiritual breaks in individuals. By approaching tikkun olam from both the social and personal sides, we engage in "repairing the world under God's rule."
Our tradition teaches that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, worship, and acts of loving-kindness. In order to sustain the world, we cannot only be involved in our own spiritual growth, but we must also engage in helping others by performing pure, unconditional acts of kindness. By doing so, we emulate God's kindness and partner with God in building a just society that can dedicate itself to tikkun olam.