By Rabbi Shawn Zevit and Roni Handler
A theology which is not a plan of social action is merely a way of preaching and praying. It is a menu without the dinner. Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, Random Thoughts, p. 22.
Belief in God has to do with our attitude toward life itself. Do we find life good? Is life worthwhile? If we believe that life is worthwhile, that it is good, that, in spite of all the sickness and accidents, in spite of all the poverty and war, in spite of all the sad and difficult conditions in the world, the world is a wonderful place to live in and can be made still a better place, then we believe in God. When we believe in God, we cannot be discouraged because we believe that all the misery in the world is due, not to the fact that misery must be there. but to the fact that we have not yet discovered how to do away with that misery. Ira Eisenstein, Kol Haneshamah.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melekh ha'olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzvianu lirdof tzedek.
Praised are You, Eternal God, Spirit of the Universe, You hallow us with Your mitzvot, and divinely inspire us to pursue tzedek.
Bruchim habaim, welcome to year two of JRF's Omer Study Initiative. Throughout this year we at JRF have been collecting data in order to learn about the wide range of tikkun olam initiatives taking place in JRF congregations. Every congregation responding to the survey (about 50 congregations) reported active engagement related to alleviating hunger and poverty in their community, country, or even internationally. Over the coming week’s congregations and individuals will have the opportunity to teach us about the projects their congregations have been involved with, present background information related to the issue, and also help you think about ways in which your congregation may begin to tackle the same issue.
As Mordecai Kaplan stated, Jewish values provide us with recipes for repairing the world. As Jews and fellow travelers, our challenge is to discern how to embody these values in our lives and in our communities. Kaplan also urged us to move beyond self-realization and the ongoing renewal of the Jewish People to see peaceful interdependence and Godly living as our global responsibility.
Every living being requires sustenance to survive. The fact some of us struggle with unhealthy and destructive eating patterns, while others are dying every day from starvation and unchecked disease points to the fact that we have not yet discovered how to do away with that misery. It may be truer to say that we have not found the will or motivation to do away with hunger and poverty.
Often times this task can seem daunting. With so much brokenness in the world, where is one to begin to attempt to return the balance to the world? Before tikkun olam became synonymous with social action in the 1960's, earlier Jewish mystics developed the idea of tikkun as re-balancing the divine energies in the world within one’s own soul (tikkun hanefesh) and on a transpersonal and universal level (tikkun olam). The imbalance was not seen as a result of an absence or shattering of mercy, compassion or understanding, but rather the absence of interdependent relationships between all the energies that make up the fabric of the world.
We are not inherently broken and need repair. We are inherently whole, but not always in relationship with our Godly potential, with each other and with the world. Perspective or systems may be broken; their repair happens when we reaffirm our covenant with Life and take our values and beliefs from the prayer book and the study halls into every aspect of our lives.
To this end, we might view the holy task of tikkun in the area of hunger and poverty as expanding Kaplan's view of Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish People. That civilization must be a spiritually, economically, socially, politically and ecologically sustainable religious civilization.
Over the coming weeks we will have an opportunity to learn how some JRF congregations have been engaging in this work in a successful and sustaining way. We will learn about the issues which led them to begin their current projects. And hopefully, this information and the study texts that represent centuries of Jewish wisdom will inspire each of you to discover ways in which your communities can assist in alleviating the shadow of hunger and poverty that hovers in the light of all the abundance in our society.