By Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, Ph.D.
The important reminder that “It’s not about you!” applies to Judaism as much as it does any one person. Judaism is about so much more than itself. I trust that few will argue with the claim that the ‘why?’ of Judaism is the redemption of humanity. This was certainly the message Abraham received when he heard the divine tell him that he would be a blessing to all people (Gen. 3:3). Thankfully, the cause of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – has been prioritized by many, many individuals and organizations throughout the Jewish community.
The time has now come for every Jewish organization – synagogues, schools, social service; philanthropic; political; Israel-related, and other organizations – to add the cause of Tikkun Olam to their mission statements. These institutions must also staff departments, set up committees, and allocate resources (creativity, time, energy, wisdom, money, …) to consider how they can hasten the arrival of the messianic era. What collective communal goal could be more significant?
Science and religion both acknowledge the miracle of human life and consciousness.
Science has described the unlikely origins of our universe and the even more unlikely conditions of the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ that gave rise on earth to sentient life, in general, and the appearance and evolution of human life, in particular.
In parallel, religious and wisdom traditions from around the world each possess origins stories of supernatural deities acting in one way or another to produce human life. That a God – or Gods – would deign to create humans is no less unlikely – and therefore no less miraculous – than the creation story described by scientists.
The shared scientific and religious wonder at the fact of existence is, I believe, more significant at this moment in human history than is the question of which of the two accurately describes the events that led to the appearance of human life. Unfortunately, it is also more absent.
The average life expectancy of a citizen of the world today is 71 years (in the United States, where I live, it is 79 years). We have but the narrowest of windows through which to peer out onto a universe that has been churning now for 13.7 billion years. Consideration of this alone should cause us to offer thanks at each breath, at each step, at each sensory experience of existence with which we are graced.
Anyone who has had the privilege (in the sense that should bring shame and embarrassment) to take a moment to look at the night sky, gaze at a flower, watch children as they play, or simply pause to experience an in-breath, has sensed the wonder of existence. At that moment, we are not only enraptured by the miracle of our own being, but by the existence of the All.
And yet, the human race today finds itself on a path toward self-destruction.
65 million refugees face little hope of resettlement. The lives of millions more are straitened by the ravages of war, displacement, terror, abuse, poverty, and the other innumerable ills that have come to define our societies and the world. And, of course, human-induced climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the unanticipated and destructive power of unfettered industrialization and technological advancement all threaten to bring this miracle to a premature end.
It seems that too many of our brothers and sisters have forgotten what a miracle it is that, through no fault of our own, we are even here. And so, it is incumbent upon those who feel gratitude for the opportunity to have lingered in that divine Place (Makom) to then acknowledge their obligation and responsibility to share that gift with others. To achieve that, we must create a just society.
The call to repair the world means that we must exert ourselves in the service of others, now and in the future, so that they, too, might sense the wonder of their own existence as we have, and then feel the pull to do the same for others.
Despite the seemingly irreparable divisions among human beings, I remain, as Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “an optimist against my better judgment.” If our community – and others alongside us – can unite in common cause to achieve Abraham’s original mission, then our memory will be for a blessing.