We’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming soon enough, but after yesterday’s post on the structure of the institutional Jewish community I find myself inspired to write a bit more, thanks to another post from Boundless Drama, who today writes about the term Tikun Olam.

Boundless Drama finds himself opposed to the use of Tikkun Olam to refer to the repair and rebuilding of Jewish institutions and institutional life. I wonder whether that’s a proper use for the term at all. I don’t know of the history of the term itself in modern usage, but it reminds me of the Bilu movement.

Those secular Zionists chose the name Bilu, which was an acronym for Beit Yakov Lechu V’nelcha. The words are taken from Isaiah (2:5), but notably, this is only the first half of the verse. The second half, B’Or Hashem, was purposefully left off. To the secular Zionists, the House of Jacob was to rise up and go, without reference to or expectation of God.

Tikun Olam’s source is from the Aleinu prayer – L’Taken Olam B’Malchut Shadai. It does not mean to fix the world. That’s a more modern meaning to the world l’taken, which is more precisely defined as ‘to establish’. Nor is this part of Aleinu even directed at us. It’s directed at God. In Aleinu, we are depicted as hopefully waiting to see God establish the world under His kingship, so that all will worship Him.

The first part of Aleinu does call upon us to praise God, and perhaps if we praise God through words and deeds, the world will come to acknowledge Him, and in that sense we take part in Tikun Olam. The Lurianic approach of the Gathering of the Sparks is built upon this concept. But what’s missing in our modern execution is the focus on God. We often base our work on the notion that mankind is created in the image of God, when in fact, the formulation that all men are created equal resounds more loudly in our ears.

So much of our work in Tikun Olam, whether it be focused on individuals, institutions, or ourselves, is disconnected from the Divine dimension. We see ourselves as expressing our essential humanity in acts of kindness and compassion, not the reflection of our Divine spirit. All glory for these acts is ultimately to us, not to God, such that Tikun Olam becomes progressive narcissism, not a transformational spiritual act.

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