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What Is Tikun Olam?

What Is Tikun Olam?

What does Tikun Olam mean, who came up with it, and how do I do it?

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Tikun Olam: In Jewish teachings, any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created.

Tikun olam implies that while the world is innately good, its Creator purposely left room for us to improve upon His work.

All human activities are opportunities to fulfill this mission, and every human being can be involved in tikun olam—child or adult, student or entrepreneur, industrialist or artist, caregiver or salesperson, political activist or environmentalist, or just another one of us struggling to keep afloat.

What Do the Words Tikun Olam Mean?

Tikun is often translated as repair. But in the Hebrew Bible and in the early code of Jewish law called the Mishnah, it has a range of meanings: improve, fix, prepare, set up, or just “do something with…”1 Tikun could be used to describe straightening a crooked rod, maintaining a roadway, cutting fingernails, setting a table, or devising a parable to explain a difficult idea.2

Olam in Biblical Hebrew connotes all of time. In later Hebrew, it came to mean the world.

So tikun olamTikun olam means to do something with the world that will not only fix any damage, but also improve upon it. literally means to do something with the world that will not only fix any damage, but also improve upon it, preparing it to enter the ultimate state for which it was created.

What improvement does our world need?

For one thing, all great art is an expression of its creator. But unlike a Rembrandt or a Chagall, our world lacks its artist’s signature. It appears to be a place that “just is”—without an author, without a story, without meaning.

Each act of tikun olam is a fine-tuning of our world’s voices. With each tikun, we are creating meaning out of confusion, harmony from noise, revealing the unique part each creation plays in a universal symphony that sings of its Creator.

This is a deeper meaning of the term tikun olam: The word olam also means hidden. We need to repair the world so that its Creator is no longer hidden within, but shines through each thing in magnificent, harmonious beauty.

Who Came Up With Tikun Olam?

Tikun olam is a signature theme of Jewish tradition.

Most ancient creation stories, Tikun olam is a signature theme of Jewish tradition.and modern philosophies as well, grant little if any inherent value to the material world in which we live. In stark contrast, the creation account of Genesis repeats seven times that the Creator beheld His creation as “good,” and even “very good.”3

Nevertheless, the conclusion of the creation narrative is that all of this was created “to do”—meaning, for those inhabiting it to improve upon it.

G‑d completed on the seventh day all that He had done…And G‑d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He ceased from all the work that G‑d created to do.4

Indeed, the narrative describing the creation of the original human beings tells us that we were placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and to protect it.”5

That the Creator values our world and our work to improve it is a motif that resounds throughout the prophets and rabbinical writings.

“Not for desolation did He create it,” says the prophet Isaiah, “He formed it to be settled.”6

Living in an age when war and conquest was glorified, Isaiah describes an era of the future when all nations that “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”7

An ancient Midrash teaches “All that G‑d created, He made to be improved.”8

And so the rabbis of the Talmud encouraged all the people, no matter how spiritually or intellectually inclined, to contribute to the common good. That meant building homes and families, and creating a civil society filled with deeds of caring and compassion, sustained by justice, integrity and peace.9 The term “tikun olam” is used in the Mishnah as the motive behind social legislation meant to improve upon such a society.10

The “Aleinu” prayer, said at the conclusion of all three daily prayers, speaks of our hope for a better future soon-to-come. So, too, does the kaddish, a responsive prayer repeated many times throughout every public prayer service. Both describe not an apocalyptic future, but one in which the world will experience its final tikun and ultimate glory.

How Is Tikun Olam Described in Kabbalah?

The Kabbalah is the traditional theology of Judaism. It illuminates all the practical applications of Judaism prescribed by the Torah with their inner meaning and purpose.

The Kabbalists taught that the Torah was given so that we could improve not only our own selves, but the entire cosmic order. In the writings of the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as “the Ari,” this is called both tikun and birur. “Birur” is the act of selecting good from the bad.11

The Ari described how everything that exists and every activity you might do contains a spark of the divine. Our job, he taught, is to find those divine sparks, select them, and reconnect them to their original, higher purpose.Our job, he taught, is to find those divine sparks, select them, and reconnect them to their original, higher purpose, using the Torah as our guide.

How do we find those sparks? Simply by doing those same activities, but in a way that reveals a higher, divine meaning.

The Ari provided the example of eating. You might eat just to fill an empty stomach. But you could also eat in order to derive energy from the nutrients of your food, and then channel that energy into fulfilling your divine mission in life.

You are now doing birur and tikun—separating good from bad and reconnecting the good to its true place.

Similarly, you might do business just to accumulate wealth. But you could do the same business using a percentage of your profits for charitable purposes. The business itself could be a vehicle for good, by creating cooperation between otherwise hostile parties, demonstrating the virtues of honesty and integrity, and providing many people with a dignified source of income.

This is also a birur and tikun. You are revealing the true meaning and higher purpose of your business and everything connected to it.

How Did Tikun Olam Affect the Modern World?

The Ari’s explanation of tikun had a powerful impact on the Jewish world—and beyond. Some scholars have suggested that the modern idea of social progress that arose in Europe in the 17th century emerged out of the idea of tikun, as kabbalistic texts were popularized among the intelligentsia.12

It wasn’t long until Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and his students applied the teachings of the Ari to every Jew. He taught that this was not the domain of kabbalists alone—every Jew, with every mitzvah, wherever the divine force may take him or her, is repairing, improving and purifying the world.

In our times, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, described tikun olam as the mission of every human being. He spoke with a voice of urgency, with the conviction that in our times, one small deed could bring the world to the resolution for which it has yearned since its creation.

What Are Examples of Tikun Olam?

Tikun olam is often used exclusively to describe acts of social justice and environmental awareness. These are certainly important, as we are all responsible to right injustice. “Silence,” goes the Talmudic edict, “is consent.”13

And it is certainly vital that we ensure the sustainability of life upon this magnificent stage of creation.

But it is crucial to note thatTikun olam is not for political activists and environmentalists alone tikun olam is not for political activists and environmentalists alone. There are really innumerous ways for us to do tikun olam in our daily lives.

The Mishnah teaches that each person is an entire world.14 Any tikun made in that world reverberates through all the rest of the world. Each tikun has the potential to change everything.

In prayer, we discover the divine sparks both in the magnificent world about us, as well as within our own selves.

In study of Torah, as we apply divine wisdom to our everyday lives, we reveal the divine sparks hidden there.

One of the most meaningful forms of tikun olam today is to sit with your family on a Friday night and celebrate the creation of this magnificent world, with a kiddush in the glowing light of the Shabbat candles.

Every mitzvah prescribed by the Torah is a crucial element in tikun olam.

But it doesn’t stop there. Every aspect of a person’s life, even the most seemingly mundane, has purpose and provides an opportunity for tikun olam.

In our workplace, we create value by building connections, gluing the world together in a peaceful, harmonious way.

The way you eat and what you eat, the way you treat others, the commitments you make to family and friends—all these are means of tikun olam, bringing the world yet closer to its ultimate state for which it was created.

Footnotes
1.
Sefer Ha’aruch, erech tikun.
6.
Isaiah 45:18. See Mishnah Gittin 4:5.
8.
Midrash Rabba, Genesis 11:6.
9.
Avot 1:18.
10.
Gittin, chapter 4.
11.
See Mishnah, Shabbat 7:2.
12.
See, for example, Allison Coudert, Leibniz and the Kabbalah, 1995; The Impact of Kabbalah in the 17th Century, 1999.
13.
Yebamot 87b.
14.
Sanhedrin 4:5.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Robin Rosenblatt Sebastopol July 19, 2017


God—may there be no end
to sea, to sand,
water’s splash,
lightning’s flash,
the prayer of man

God—may there be no end
to sea, to sand,
water’s splash,
lightning’s flash,
the prayer of man
Hannah Senesh
Caesarea 1942 Reply

Holly USA July 18, 2017

Blessings Reply

Robin Rosenblatt Sebastopol July 13, 2017

Have Jews abandon Israel?

Israel is facing a major emergency:
War may be is coming to Israel. Israeli reports Hezbollah the Lebanese terrorist group is threatening Israel with 100,000 rockets and missiles, including sophisticated long-range rockets. This can cause massive damage and major forest fires in the Galilee.
Do you want forest fires at the backs of our soldiers at the same time they are fighting our enemies? If not help the Israel Longhorn Project.
Texas Longhorns eat the shrubs that help cause fires. These desert shrub burn at a higher temperature igniting the trees. With holistic grazing we can bring Israel’s soils back to life causing the shrubs to die and green grass to grow. Texas Longhorns, lived in Israel 2,000 years ago they help us solve many problems. Bring Texas or Israel Longhorns home. at longhornproject.org
We need contributions of $50,000 from 12 of you who have the funds to solve this problem. Or $120 from 5,000 of you.

Robin Rosenblatt, M.Sc. Animal Sc Reply

Richard July 19, 2017
in response to Robin Rosenblatt:

Robin I check out this cause and I donated to the Longhorn Project. Hashem shows us we all have the money Blessed be your Tikun Olam Reply

ויקנטי קרבין גבעת שמואל July 12, 2017

“All that G‑d created, He made to be improved.” is linked to Genesis 11:6
I fail to see where it says that. Genesis 11:6 is nowhere even close to it.

Check it, will you?

Maybe there is an opportunity here for you to deliver a small tikun :D Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 13, 2017
in response to ויקנטי קרבין:

Hi Vikanti,

The reference is Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 11:6. You can find that online just by googling that exact phrase (or Genesis Rabbah 11:6 --same thing). Reply

Linda Tanner Grand Rapids July 7, 2017

Well written, Toda Raba!! Reply

Lee Gary Kushner Los Angeles July 6, 2017

The need for Tikun Olam, in terms of the gross inhumanities, people suffer, and the manner in which the world is staggered by adulteration, bespeaks of the glaring realities of human evil; if the universe was created by God to be innately good, then it follows that these horrendous monstrosities are not of his doing, but rather of sinister, human instigation, over which God has, at times, no obvious control. This may not sit well with the orthodox clergy and adherents of any denomination, who would like to believe that God has created everything, including the need for Tikun Olam, but logically, this is an impossibility. He does, just as obviously, bring people together and provide the main drive for individuals to transcend their bestial natures, and act in an actively constructive and moral fashion. Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 13, 2017
in response to Lee Gary Kushner:

Hi Lee,
Yes, the horrors we witness challenge our faith. But perhaps they bespeak not the deficiencies of our Creator, but the deficiencies of the created being to fathom the goodness of its Creator. Reply

Lee Kushner Los Angeles July 13, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

Absolutely!! Thank you for your fair-minded reply. Reply

Marcus Gundlach Esslingen am Neckar July 5, 2017

Tikun Olam for me is, to bring much more jewish ethic in the world; this means your intention is much more important than your wanting. Tikun Olam for me is also, the more people with good intention, the more healing for the world. On the other hand, we need also ways to bring so called evil to justice - those who have bad intentions, have to be held responsible. Reply

Helen Dudden United Kingdom July 5, 2017

So beautifully written. Reply

Hewan Demissie Degu July 5, 2017

Thank you so much for this message. The teaching is deep. The example and the tools used to illustrate clarified the concept more. Reply

Anonymous July 4, 2017

Tikun Olam was given to us like the poison of a rattle snake. I really like the shock value of starting the comment this way because it wakes me up. The snake was born with the venom and is a reptile, with reptile intelligence. Thus human beings are the most intelligent species that Hashem created in my opinion. Why?, we found out that once bitten by the poisonous snake we can use the same poison for a anti-toxin. Psychologically we still might have Tikun Olam for ourselves because we can't stop prosecuting a animal. When we help ourselves from pain and fear then we can certainly move forward. Great article Reply

Pete WA June 15, 2017

Rectification, in terms of an electric circuit, involves four diodes that take alternating current (AC) and turn it into direct current (DC)

The crook becomes a tsedeck. What was crooked is straightened out. Instead of the inebriated stumble of the drunkard trying to walk in two directions at one time, he chooses one direction or the other but not both.

And "and gate" becomes an "or gate" in digital circuitry.

And the "or" is the light of the world. "Let there be light."

Peace. Reply

Marian Andersen June 15, 2017

I love everything about this article -- the topic, the illuminating clarity of its explanation, as well as the tools used as illustration. :) I've long believed that faith is nothing if not practical and connected to the very molecules of the created world in which 'we live and move and have our being'. Feel sad that the Christian world of my upbringing so early lost its connection with our brothers and sisters in, the wisdom of, and our deep rootedness in Judaic faith. Thank you! Reply

Denise Africa June 16, 2017
in response to Marian:

Hi Marian Long years ago I had a dream of a large old deep rooted tree in a dry place which had been burnt and to all appearances dead but from near the base there had sprung up a fresh new branch from the old root.. A little further on were four silver, delicate pillars to which was attached what I understood to be a wedding canopy. Under it a chest full of jewels, unlocked but unopened. Take heart, all things work together for good to those who love G-d and are called according to his purpose. I really don't know why but thought to share this with you. I am so blessed by the many things I have read and had my attention drawn to on this wonderful site. Thank you Leibervitcher team. Reply

Pete WA June 15, 2017

Jacob-Israel is an example, I do believe, of Tikun Olam. Whatever was crooked in dear Jacob was straightened out after his wrestling match with the angel. Reply

Robin Rosenblatt June 15, 2017

You are wrong! Tikun Olam means to bring G-d's teaching to those that don't know like you. Reply

ymg June 15, 2017

the words are "Ltaken Olam", however many people omit the continuation, Bimalchus Sha-dai, with G-d's kingdom. Tikun olam is not an environmental or economic issue it's a spiritual issue. Reply

Michael Sydney June 16, 2017
in response to ymg:

I'll take that on board thanks! Reply

Lew White Louisville June 15, 2017

Repairer Of The Breach In One Word
Torah is the love-training intended be shared with all the world. Kindness only exists because Torah is available to be a light for mankind. The less Torah we see in a person's life, the more darkness. The purpose of Torah is to instruct all mankind how to love. When Torah guides our steps, good effects are the result. When Torah is ignored, bad effects are the result. Reply

Robin Rosenblatt Sebastopol July 19, 2017
in response to Lew White:

Here is a small gift of the sacred words of a Jewish Warrior

Blessed Is The Match

Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns
in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with the strength to stop
its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.

Hannah Senesh
Sardice, Yugoslavia May 2, 1944 Reply

Denise South Africa June 15, 2017

Tikum Olum Now I know that what I believed I knew our purpose is to be, is what is meant to be known, and effected,.by all during the grace space of our lives. Thank you so very much for confirming for me the good of downloading musings that well up during quiet times of reflection. Tikum Olum - what wonderful hitherto unknown words in my vocabulary. Reply

Anonymous June 15, 2017

A good explanation of Tikun Olim for me, thank you Rabbi Reply

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