Reflections on “Tikkun Olam”

Photo of American Jewish Congress Chartered Bus, New York to Washington for the March on Washington, 1963 found on https://ajhs.org

By Priscilla Hunt

First proclaimed by President George W. Bush in 2006, May is known for its commemoration of Jewish American Heritage. Since then, presidents have issued a proclamation each year commemorating the month. Read Joe Biden’s 2022 Proclamation here.

As we commemorate this month, I often reflect on my first experiences with Jewish culture and traditions through my education at Florida State University. While pursuing a minor in Religion, I was lucky enough to take a course titled “Jewish Tradition” which provided me an introduction to the history and culture of Judaism. Dr. Kavka soon became one of my favorite professors that semester and while I loved everything I learned, “Tikkun Olam” is one concept that I appreciated the most and has stuck with me through the years.

The term “Tikkun Olam” or “world repair” can be found in the text of the “Mishna,” a collection of third-century Rabbinic text. “Tikkun Olam” has taken on many meanings throughout the centuries. A large portion of activists and Jewish leaders make the case that the term is meant to be a driving force for social justice policy, and as a rule of thumb to protect the disadvantaged. 

For others, the term has a much broader influence; in order to bring the world into a better existence, we must first begin to repair the world on an individual level. In Jewish Mysticism and texts such as the “Kabbalah,” “Tikkun Olam” emphasizes that the “repair of the world” must first begin with us, the individual, through adherence to the “Mitzvot” or “commandments,” by participating in “g’milut hasadim” or “acts of love and kindness” and prayer. It is through these processes that the world would be brought back to holy restoration.

Despite the different interpretations of meaning, I think most would agree that we live in a world that will always benefit from repair. While we recognize Jewish American Heritage Month, I urge you all to do so in the spirit of “Tikkun Olam.” Whether your version of worldly restoration is that of justice through social action or through small acts of kindness, I encourage you to reflect on this phrase and its deeper meaning and continue to care for one another.

For more information on Jewish American Heritage please visit the resources below.  

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