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The Challenges of "Tikkun Olam"
Dr. Andrew Wilson, Academic Dean, UTS Interfaith Seminary|
Barrytown, New York, United States
November 27, 2007
The renowned sixteenth-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria taught that God created the world by forming vessels of light to hold the Divine Light. But as God poured the Light into the vessels, they catastrophically shattered, tumbling down toward the realm of matter. Thus our world consists of countless shards of the original vessels, entrapping sparks of the Divine Light. Humanity's great task involves helping God by freeing and reuniting the scattered light, "raising the sparks" back to divinity and restoring the broken world.
Isaac Luria called this task tikkun olam, usually translated as "repairing the world." Tikkun olam encompasses service to society by helping those in need and service to God by liberating the spark within.
Interfaith initiatives that deal with ethics and values but avoid the messy task of finding common ground around the core revelation are at best only half-measures. They are ineffective for raising the holy sparks. The Universal Peace Federation's Middle East Peace Initiative goes deeper and can be seen as a process of tikkun olam.
To honor the Divine Light of the three religions requires each to take seriously the highest revelations and aspirations of the other. For example, a core aspiration of Judaism is the return to the Land of Israel; this is God's promise revealed by the prophets.
Can Muslims have the humility and charity to honor that Jewish hope and yield on the question of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Israel?
On the other hand, a core belief of Christians is that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed king of Israel. Is there any way for Jews to honor God's revelation to Christians and regard Jesus as a "prince of peace," even though the Jewish experience of Jesus' followers has been anything but peaceful?
Can Christians, for their part, recognize in the Jews people of faith who regard Christian attempts at conversion as invitations to faithlessness to God's revelation at Sinai?
Can they go beyond their singular focus on Jesus to recognize the prophethood of Muhammad, and learn from his teachings, some of which may be illuminating in areas where Christian doctrine is lacking?
Second, tikkun olam is incompatible with proselytizing. It honors the Divine Light everywhere it appears.
Third, believers can be responsible only for the tikkun of their own religion. No one can demand change of the other; one but can change only what is in oneself. As Hillel stated, "If I am not for myself, who is for me?" (Pirke Avot 1:14). The Qur'an reads, "There is no coercion in religion" (2:257), and the New Testament teaches that love "does not insist on its own way" (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Fourth, in honoring the revelations of other faiths, believers should not be untrue to the core message of their own revelation.
MEPI's work of reconciliation among people of the Abrahamic faiths is within the parameters of the above four principles.
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