Fixing the World – Tikkun Olam
I often feel like I’m just spinning my wheels in the daily grind: Get up, shower, eat, go to work, come home, eat, go to sleep. And then do it all over again. Isn’t there more to life? How do I find it?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Talmud asks: Why was Adam created alone? (As opposed to Adam and Eve being created simultaneously.) To teach you that every person is obligated to say, "For my sake alone the world was created." That doesn’t mean the world is mine to consume everything indiscriminately (although God does want us to enjoy the pleasures of this world).
What it does mean is that we must take responsibility for any problem in the world. If you recognize a problem – whether it be a piece of litter on the street or a major social issue that needs adjusting – you shouldn’t just say “someone else will deal with it.” There is nobody else. In God’s eyes, the rule is: You saw it, you fix it.
Consider the following true story:
In the 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan there was a doctor named Robert Stone who was the head of the trauma medical center at UCLA. Stone said to himself, "I wonder who's providing medical care to the refugees inside Afghanistan?" It turned out that all of the regular medical organizations like Doctors Without Borders were staying away because the Russians were killing any doctors they found. Stone said to himself, "If nobody else is doing anything, then it's my responsibility."
He sold his house in Los Angeles and moved to Pakistan. He trained illiterate Afghan refugees how to be medics – how to extract bullets, splint broken bones, treat the dozen most common diseases, etc. Then he sent them back across the border into Afghanistan. That was the only medical care available in Afghanistan during the entire time the Russians were there.
Imagine the pleasure of being able to look back at that achievement as your own.
We all yearn for immortality – yet how do we achieve that? To set the world record for the 100-meter dash? To build the tallest skyscraper in Manhattan?
Of course not. Immortality is achieved by connecting ourselves to the global body of humanity. To treat the planet as a sacred trust, to preserve for future generations. As the Torah says: God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden – “to work it and to protect it” (Genesis 2:15).
To get started, imagine this: Someone has nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize for services to mankind. The award carries a prize of 10 million dollars. You are to present yourself to the awards committee and report what you plan to do with the money if you win. What will you tell them?