“Making Whole”—Tikkun HaOlam

By David Gaines

Last Wednesday, we had an orientation meeting to prepare for our upcoming trip to India with CJP and JDC Entwine. During the orientation, CJP’s Rabbi Elyse Winnick led our group in a conversation about the concept of tikkun ha’olam—“making whole.” Up for discussion were various passages from the Torah. One passage we read during this discussion stood out to me:

“Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest the sinful conduct of the members of his household and did not protest, he himself is punished for the sins of the members of his household and is punished. If he is a position to protest the sinful conduct of the people of his town, and he fails to do so, he is punished for the sins of the people of his town. If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of the whole world, and he fails to do so, he is punished for the sins of the whole world.”
—Shabbat 54b

At first, I thought this passage was wholly impractical. How is one supposed to take on the problems of the entire world? How is a person—who has a hard time keeping a calendar—supposed to shoulder that level of responsibility?

Let’s say that an individual can muster the resources necessary to make change. How can we be sure that the individual would be productive in their efforts? The problems of the world are the results of complex and intricate systems. A naïve solution for a systemic problem has the potential to create even greater levels of harm!

But then, I looked more closely at how exactly the text was written, and a few parts stand out:

“Anyone who had the capability to effectively protest.”

I see that this statement is couched in an assumption that one needs to develop the capability to take on a problem and create effectual change.

There is more wisdom that can be drawn from the text, in that there is an order in which one is supposed to go about making things whole.

First is your own home: “Protest the sinful conduct of the members of his household.”

Next is your town or your local community: “Protest the sinful conduct of the people of his town.”

Finally, one can then begin to consider shouldering more: “If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct of the whole world.

Personally, I’d add another priority. If oneself is not whole, then one cannot effectually shoulder anyone else’s burden. Perhaps that’s the “capability” the text is referencing.

For this reason, I think the trip to India is a fantastic opportunity to embody this text. This trip provides the means for a group of young professionals in Boston to learn what efforts people elsewhere are taking to shoulder and alleviate the burdens that exist in society.

This effort is one that works on the many levels of tikkun ha’olam. We are working on ourselves by learning more about how Israel’s humanitarian efforts, through a coalition they have built, effectuates positive impact in India. We are gaining the experience of seeing and learning about a country far away and different from our own. We are building a community, not only within the travel group by sharing this experience, but also with the Jewish-Indian community that we will meet. I look forward to seeing how a group of 5,000 Jews in a country of 1.3 billion creates their own community.

From this experience, I hope the travel group can respectfully learn from another culture, people and way of being. Hopefully, at the end, we will be better oriented toward contributing our individual part in working toward tikkun ha’olam in ourselves, our communities and, one day, the world.

David Gaines hails from New Jersey. He graduated from Williams College in 2015 with a degree in economics. After college, David moved to Boston for an economic consulting job. Recently, David founded a company that works with large employers to help them maximize the value of their health care expenditure. In his free time, David likes listening to podcasts, learning new skills, chatting with friends and exploring new cities.