We know that Jesus was a Jew, but how often do we reflect on the fact that our own faith springs from Jewish roots? Even a little familiarity with Judaism can yield rich insights. Take the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, a rabbinic concept that has been around since at least the second century. It can be translated “repairing the world.” But how does one go about repairing the world?
The Jewish people speak of being called “to perfect the world under God’s sovereignty.” Looking at their contributions to history, you would have to admit they have gone some way toward doing that. Many of the big ideas on which our own culture is founded are Jewish ideas—the sanctity of human life, absolute morality, the equality of all persons before the law, and many more.
“We were the people,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “who were born in slavery to teach the world the meaning of freedom. We were the people who suffered homelessness to teach humanity the importance of every people having a home. We were the people who were the quintessential strangers to teach humanity that ‘Thou shall not oppress the stranger’ (Exodus 23:9). We were the people who walked through the valley of the shadow of death to teach humanity the sanctity of life. We were the people who were always small but yet survived to teach the world a people does not survive by might nor by strength but by My spirit, says G-d (Zechariah 4:6).”*
In terms of the Jewish duty to “repair the world,” Sacks goes on to say that in our relativistic age, we must “teach people once again to hear the objective ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not.’”* And we must, he says, also teach them that shalom is found in God himself, the mighty one who is able to turn an enemy into a friend.
As Christians, we, too, are called to be repairers of the world, believing that our efforts will not be in vain but will come to fruition when Christ comes again. More
* Jonathan Sacks, “Tikkun Olam: Orthodoxy’s Responsibility to Perfect G-d’s World” (address to the Orthodox Union West Coast Convention, December 1997).