Tikkun Olam (Hebrew: תיקון עולם, literally “repairing the world”) in Hebrew teachings is considered every activity intended to improve the world, bringing it closer to the harmonic state for which it was created. The whole Creation is by its nature good, but the Creator has deliberately left us room to improve His work, so all human activities “that are done under the sun” (as King Salomon use to say) are an opportunity to fulfill this mission that gives a purpose to the existence and life of human beings. Everyone and in various forms can be involved in the “tikkun olam”, from the governor of a state that promotes peace and justice, to a child who picks up a card on the ground and every good work aimed at social and environmental welfare. So not only works that can repair an already existing damage, but also those that improve the current state of things, preparing the World to enter the last era for which it was created.
The documented reference to the term dates back to the Mishnaic period, starting in the Middle Ages, and cabbalistic literature has expanded its use. The idea that believers are responsible not only for their own moral, spiritual and material well-being, but also for the well-being of society in the broader sense. A social justice of believers and an affirmation of the divine qualities that GOD invites us to imitate and that every righteous heart must set an example.
The first use of the term tikkun olam is found in the phrase mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the good of repairing the world”, which appears in the Mishnah with the meaning of changing the law to keep society functioning well. More generally, tikkun can mean improvement, institution, repair, or preparation. In the mishnaic context it refers to legal measures taken in the present to improve social conditions.
A conception of the tikkun olam is also found in the Aleinu, a conclusive part of most of the prayers of the Jewish congregation, which in contrast to the use of the Mishnah, focuses on the end of time. The Aleinu pleads GOD in this way:
Hebrew: “לראות מהרה עוזך, להעביר גלולים מן הארץ והאלילים כרות לתקן לתקן עולם יכרתוון ש-די”.
Translation: “to see speedily Thy mighty splendor, that the wicked (idolatry) may be removed from the earth, and the (false) gods shall be completely eliminated, to bring olam (the world) under the kingdom of the Almighty
In other words, when all the inhabitants of the world will abandon the false gods (money, power, success and all those things that are “worshipped” and therefore distance themselves from GOD) and recognize their belonging to GOD, the world will be a better place.
Humanity is therefore empowered and elevated in a partnership with the work of GOD (“you are all Gods” Psalm 82, 6) by being deeply instructed to take the necessary steps to improve the state of the world and to help others.
Throughout the history of Jewish tradition, the tikkun olam has sometimes referred to eschatological concerns, as in Aleinu, and sometimes to practical concerns, as in the Mishnah, but in both contexts it refers to some kind of social change or process that is for the improvement of society or humanity or the world. Whether it occurs primarily within the society of believers or in relation to the rest of the world’s nations, and whether it occurs through acts of justice and kindness or through observance of the Biblical Laws. For example, the Talmudic scholar and eminent philosopher of the Middle Ages, Maimonides saw the tikkun olam as fully inclusive of all these dimensions when he wrote:
Through wisdom, which is [represented by] Torah, and the elevation of character, which is [represented by] acts of kindness, and observing the Torah’s commandments, which are [represented by] the sacrifices, one continuously brings tikkun olam improvement of the world, and the ordering of reality.
(Pirkei Avot 1, 2)
Nevertheless, he also saw justice as a fundamental component, like when writing:
Every judge who judges truth unto its [deepest] truth, even for one hour, it’s as if he fixed the whole world entirely / tikein et kol ha’olam kulo and caused the Shekhinah to rest upon Israel
(Mishneh Torah – Hilkhot Sanhedrin 23, 9)
Moreover, the original context of Aleinu prayer, in the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, is accompanied by the hope that “all [the person(s)] form one community to do Thy will with all one’s heart. In many contexts this is interpreted as a call to universalism and justice for all humanity, feelings that are common to the whole liturgy of Abrahamic Religions. In Conservative Judaism for example we find in the prayer book Siddur Sim Shalom:
Moreover, the original context of Aleinu prayer, in the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, is accompanied by the hope that “all [the person(s)] form one community to do Thy will with all one’s heart. In many contexts this is interpreted as a call to universalism and justice for all humanity, feelings that are common to the whole liturgy of Abrahamic Religions. In Conservative Judaism, for example, we find in the prayer book Siddur Sim Shalom: “May citizens of all races and believe in creating a common bond in true harmony to banish all hatred and intolerance” and “unite all peoples in peace and freedom and help them to realize the prophet’s vision: “A nation will no longer raise its sword against the nation, nor will it live the war””. Both lines express with all their hearts the idea of universal equality, freedom and peace for all.
With the execution of mitzvots, it is believed that the people of believers will become a model society. This idea is sometimes attributed to biblical verses describing Jews as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19, 5-6) and “a light of nations” or “a light for nations” (Isaiah 42, 6 and Isaiah 49, 6). Thus, respecting the Commandments has practical sociological and educational effects and in this way mitzvots will perfect believers and the world.
The only home we have: the World
Tikkun olam is often used to describe acts of social justice and environmental awareness, we are all responsible and guardians of our home the World. Of fundamental importance is to ensure the sustainability of life at this stage of creation, to be environmentally friendly, to save on non-renewable energy, to take less cars, to waste less, to consume the right are all things in favor of “repair and maintenance” of the place where we live and our children after us.
The Mishnah teaches that every person is an entire world unto himself (Sanhedrin 4, 5) every tikkun in the world affects the rest of the world, and every tikkun has the potential to change everything. In prayer we rediscover the divine spark both in the magnificent world around us and within us, while by studying the Holy Scriptures we apply divine wisdom to our daily lives.
Therefore, Tikkun Olam is not only limited to the vastness of Creation, but also in one of the most significant forms, namely within one’s own family. Every precept that is respected is a crucial element for tikkun olam, respecting parents, not lying, respecting one’s partner, providing for the education of children by teaching the Bible Laws, are all works for the World and could both benefit our own, but also inspire other families. It is all these works and many others that drive evil away from us, marginalizing it to the ends of the Earth and bringing the world closer to its final state, the ultimate purpose for which it was created.
- First, Mitchell. “Aleinu: Obligation to Fix the World or the Text?” (PDF). Hakirah. Hakirah. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
- See Seidenberg, David, “A Tikkun for Tikkun Olam?”
- “Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World”. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
- ben Moshe, Ariel (21 February 2007). “Tikkun Olam: Connecting Social Action and Spirituality”. JSpot. Archived from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
- Fine, Lawrence. “Tikkun Olam in contemporary Jewish thought”. MyJewishLearning.com.
- Mirsky, Yehudah (2008). “Tikkun Olam: Basic Questions and Policy Directions”. Facing Tomorrow. The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. pp. 213–229. Retrieved 22 October 2018 – via Berman Jewish Policy Archive.ù
- Dr. Judith Bleich, “Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: Ish al Ha’edah” Jewish Action, issue unknown, p. 28 (accessed October 23, 2008): “[Hirsch aimed at n]othing less than transformation of the entire Jewish community and ultimately, the molding of society at large in its moral image (tikkun olam).”
- Krasner, Jonathan (2013). “The Place of Tikkun Olam in American Jewish Life”. Jewish Political Studies Review. 25 (3–4).
- The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (1937), p. 124: “We cannot consider ourselves servants of the Divine King unless we take upon ourselves the task ‘to perfect the World under the Kingdom of the Almighty.’ We must strive to reconstruct the social order in ways that would give evidence of our allegiance to the creative spirit of human life, that spirit which makes for personal self-realization and social communion…We should not give up hope of achieving an adequately representative government integrally related to a righteous economic order and to an internationalism without which there can never be universal peace.”