The prophet Jeremiah captured the heart and message of our Torah when he pronounced: "Thus said God -- Do what is just and right; rescue from the defrauder him who is robbed; do not wrong the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; commit no lawless act, and do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place. ... Your father ate, and drank, and dispensed justice and equity -- then all went well with him. He upheld the rights of the poor and needy -- then all was well. That is truly heeding Me."
As Jews, we believe that the most crucial and sacred element to our religious way of life is contained in what the rabbis called hesed, or "acts of loving-kindness," which create a basis for ethical living. Specifically, we embrace the religious principle of Tikkun Olam -- that each of us individually is responsible to "repair our world."
It is important to note that it is each individual's responsibility to bring healing to our world, and that we cannot "outsource" the obligation to others. We believe that the responsibility lies with us, because of the great gift of life we have received. Because God gave us the privilege of living in this world, we have a moral and ethical directive to contribute to God's holy creation; because we lived here, through our actions, our relationships, and life choices, we must leave the world a better place than we found it.
We often utilize the term social action to describe these acts of hesed and, in fact, the Temple has its own ever-important social action committee and ongoing initiatives. But I fear that we lose the power of the mitzvah'in the wording of social action.
Social action is a great directive for what we must do and how we must behave, but the power contained in the word mitzvah reminds us that we do so because God commands it.
Jews believe that we are religiously obligated to fix everything in the world that is broken. There is so much brokenness in the world -- even the thought of where to begin is a daunting one. We are not, however, obligated to fully succeed in this endeavor, but God commands us to constantly try to succeed at this holy task with all of our might.
While Rabbi Tarfon said, in Pirkei Avot, "Yours is not to complete the task, but neither can you desist from it," the ancient Jewish mystics believed that "It is only as a result of the repair of the world that both cosmos and the Holy can be said to be complete, and that humanity can once again be whole and united with the Holy."
Each person needs to participate in the process that brings about the world's repair. We live in a time and place where providing healing to the world is not merely about helping others; it is through this work that we create a better, more just and more equitable world for our children and for future generations.
It is the participation in this process that is the means by which we bring wholeness to ourselves and our relationship with God, and into which we commit the hope that our good deeds will not only help to sustain others in the present, but also touch the future.
We need to pursue the activities whereby we can dedicate not only our resources, but also our time -- the most precious commodity of all. Within our lives we should ask ourselves, "What work most needs to be done, and what am I most capable of doing? And in doing that work, what is the example I wish to set for those I love?"
The individual obligation to heal the world brings out the unique capabilities -- and some might even say the truest talents -- in each of us. For some, we can bring warmth and compassion to a visit with the elderly, the sick and those in mourning. For others, we can identify a cause in which we become passionately active, or an organization that can best use our time and talents. Some can offer support at a soup kitchen, love and companionship for someone lonely, time to listen to someone who needs to be heard.
Each day can contain some small step in bringing healing and repair to this broken world and, subsequently, a little extra healing and repair within our broken selves.
Let's make the time to be present, actively bringing wholeness to God's creation, so that God can be present with us.
With Peace and Blessings
Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz is senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Greenwich, co-founder of the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship and a past president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy. For an archive of past Greenwich Citizen Columns, visit www.templesholom.com.