By Rabbi Ori Bergman
What is Tikkun Olam?
Literally, the words mean to fix/rectify the olam, which our sages say comes from the world, Helem, hidden. Our world is a hidden mystery where truth and falsehood or good and bad are often difficult to distinguish. We come to repair this state of affairs.
While this fundamental Jewish idea might seem grand, it actually happens in the smallest of moments in a process that the Jewish mystics (Kabbalists) refer to as the revealing of a divine spark.
What is a “divine spark” you might then ask? The kabbalists explain this concept of a divine spark as the purpose and meaning behind everything in existence.
So Tikkun Olam means to do a tikkun (a fixing/rectification) by revealing the meaning, truth and purpose in our olam (our mysterious world.) We are meant to reveal truth in the world which by nature conceals truth.
The kabbalists teach that sparks became scattered in the creation of the world, somewhat like having the letters and words of a novel scattered about causing the book to lose its obvious meaning. Thus, meaning gives way to what appears to be a confused and nonsensical world. Our primary purpose then, is to be partners in the divine plan of “gathering the scattered letters and words” in order to rediscover their meaning and thus bring the world into a state of harmony, clarity and purpose.
A personal friend and teacher of mine, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, explains our purpose as follows: Take for example, any life experience. “Some person you meet or a vacation you take. A job you start or a class you take. A friendship. A falling-out. A success. A failure. Wherever you go, whatever you see, there’s something you need to learn from that experience, something that gives you a deeper understanding of life and your unique purpose. The more we uncover the meaning of each thing, the closer the world comes to its fulfillment. Our task then: to perceive a deeper world beneath the veneer of our reality.”
So revealing a spark happens when asking: what deeper purpose does this object, experience, person etc… have in my life? What opportunity does it provide? In doing so, I can then make the most of my life discovering that even the smallest of moments and the most mundane of experiences can actually be seen as sparks of meaning or purpose waiting to be revealed. This could happen during: time with a child, a walk in the park, the feel of the breeze, a text to a friend or an encounter with a stranger. All moments calling us to reveal our greatest self within them. To discover the spark is also to reveal a deeper unity that exists amongst all things and experientially, it leaves one with a deeper connection and wholeness than existed before.
Shakespeare wrote an idea that goes to the heart of this concept. He says, “Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. But some have greatness thrust upon them.”
To reveal a “divine spark” is to recognize that I might not be born great nor will I achieve greatness, but my purpose and task is to respond to the call of greatness and ask: How can I rise up to this experience and moment and reveal its meaning and purpose.
In this backdrop, comes a wonderful new initiative made possible by the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning- the creation of Anytime Activities, aka Sparks for families and individuals to utilize in order to find greater significance and meaning in their day to day lives. The goal is to take an idea or experience we encounter in our lives and use our Jewish sources to elevate the experience with a deep sense of meaning. So, for instance, a recently released Spark, titled The Hunt for Treasure, a recent news headline about a modern day treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains to facilitate experiencing nature in a deepened way using the guidance of Jewish sources; the result is a discovery of a divine spark that leaves you with a profound sense of wholeness and purpose in experiencing the natural world.
Rabbi Ori Bergman is the Rabbi for Congregation Kehillat Ohr Tzion and Jewish Educator for the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning.