Tikkun Olam

Although articles discussing it are several  days old, I just came across  a link to the Baccalaureate Address given to graduating Yale students by Yale President Peter Salovey.

Salovey’s address was titled Repair the World.  He began with the question “If a graduating senior asked me to capture the purpose of life after graduating from Yale in just a few words, what would I say? What would that purpose be? Could I articulate your life’s mission as you leave Yale — on Commencement weekend, no less — while ‘standing on one foot’?  (As many may recognize, the phrase “standing on one foot” is a reference first century rabbi Hillel, who was asked to summarize the meaning of the entire Torah while standing on one foot.)  He suggested that there are many answers to the question of the students’ commitment after Yale – finding a good job, nurturing a family, etc.

Salovey had this suggestion as to the purpose of the lives of these new graduates: to improve the world, or as it would be expressed in the Jewish tradition: Tikkun Olam, literally to repair the world.  He elaborated

What I like about this proposal for life’s purpose is that improving the world can be accomplished from within nearly any political framework. Repairing, healing, or improving the world — often captured in the idea of alleviating suffering — can be pursued from a liberal perspective (develop social programs that encourage self-sufficiency but provide a safety net), from a conservative point of view (teach fundamental values in order to cultivate individuals of good character who make the world a better place), and even from a libertarian agenda (enable free market forces to reinforce good ideas and good behavior; in the meantime, live and let live).

I also favor improving the world as the life purpose of a newly minted Yalie because it is possible to embrace this life mission in so many ways:

When you start a new business that employs people and contributes something new, you improve the world.

When you serve others with great distinction in one of the professions, you improve the world.

When you pursue an academic career in order to light fires in the bellies of the next generation of college or high school students, you improve the world.

When you inspire others by creating a beautiful work of art, you improve the world.

When you build a service organization and you listen to and collaborate with those who you would like to help, you improve the world….

Improving the world is a difficult project to take on because – unlike so many aspects of your education at Yale or of life itself – there really is no beginning, middle, or end here. There is no “bottom line.” What may be most challenging is that even after a lifetime of work, further repair may be necessary. Maybe even more than when you started. My predecessor, President Richard Levin (whom I like to refer to as “Twenty-Two”), often quoted Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. ….

Tikkun Olam is a task for all of us.  We may debate what it means to repair the world, but it is a task as to which we each have a part.

You can read the entirety of President Salovey’s address here.


One thought on “Tikkun Olam

  1. As Pentecost draws near many thoughts swirl and converge from within recent posts and articles. . .

    In Jesus’ own words, “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    Contained in Angelic refrains, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

    From a homily by Fr. Pat Griffin – In it he suggested some reasons we might spend time each day “looking up to heaven and anticipating the Lord’s imminent return.”

    “First of all, in the Liturgy, we pray for the Lord’s return. Advent and Christmas Season advance the constant refrain: “maranatha,” “come, Lord Jesus.” We want the Lord to draw near and soon. In the Our Father, we anticipate and yearn for the coming of the Lord: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” We want God to establish the divine rule and ways among us, and that is done most fully with the return of Jesus in glory. . .

    As Susan recalls, “Why indeed! . . . ‘What are you doing standing around here? You have work do to. Don’t be looking up there – he’s not going to be doing the heavy lifting from now on – he’ll come back in his own time. Right now it’s up to you.’ ”

    And as Richard commented, “not just a reform within Islam. Seems like an urgent call for social scientists as well as theologians to engage in interfaith dialogue.”

    With theological voices more passionately professed than from Sunday pulpits past – often continually, politically and multi-media driven, what witness need be shared to stem the tide of ‘flocks’ diminishing as the recent Pew research claims?

    Joel Osteen’s Evangelical prosperity gospel proclaimed weekly, to 14,000 or 40,000, has been refined to reach and inspire the ‘individual’ more than the multitude – delivered charismatically, though currently, with a subtle reminder that one must first walk with the Lord, and new life is not all sunshine and roses.

    From a Catholic perspective, are we to “witness . . . to the ends of the earth.” Jesus’ message as He proclaimed, or often the message defined as Magisterium or diocese insists and requires?

    Partake of the sacred meal (Eucharist) from the altar in a Protestant church, gather and share an earthly meal at a congregant’s table and experience Jesus’ message of Love, inclusion and opportunity to share witness similar to the early Christians as they gathered in ‘home churches’.

    Is the greatest stumbling block to building up the Family of God on earth His children or His shepherds? Jesus did not concern himself with always being politically correct or striving to ‘thread the needle’ between His New Covenant and the Old – His message was rather radical. . .

    Is not the gift of human life and the coming of Jesus only possible through the ‘Gift’ of original sin? Why angst and dire warnings and not celebration over the gift of life, gifted with all its burdens and blessings? After the Resurrection and dawn of His New Covenant, each new soul is made in His image and likeness, and ‘completely filled’ with unconditional love and His gift of the Holy Spirit. Not stained with sin. To the contrary, each is blessedly offered forgiveness and an earthly lifetime of opportunities to surrender to His love and to be His presence in the world. . .

    The Lord ‘has’ come! What more is there to seek than that already given? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12

    With the Supreme Court set to rule on marriage equality, Romans 1: 18–32 was cited expressing how the sanctity of marriage will be forever defiled depending on the ruling. Can as strong, if not stronger, case be made that Paul spoke not of marriage, but of the licentious behavior (both heterosexual and homosexual) of the day? Is not the sanctity of Marriage strengthened through love and not solely through procreation? Has humanity evolved in arrogance to define love for God, God who is Love?

    Many a politician and clergy continually bemoan that religious freedom is under attack by government and an increasingly secular society. Based on their faith beliefs, many a leader has introduced and / or championed legislation to abolish abortion and regulate contraceptives – campaigns that often inspire violence, violence they deplorable though restrictive new laws and mandates frequently deemed commendable. . .

    Would not listening to, speaking with instead of talking over, the concerns of those with opposing views further advance the decline in abortions and contraceptive use? The righteous may currently possess the ‘louder’ voices, voices that silence the many and continue to smother the Lord’s message of Love and inclusion.

    We are called by name. How many answer truthfully, “here I am Lord?”

    “Right now it’s up to you.”

    Tikkun Olam

    For whom will you witness? . . .

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