Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 26° Cloudy
News >  Features

‘Fix the world’ principle ties in with Hanukkah

Religion News Service

The Jewish principle of “tikkun olam,” meaning “to fix the world,” resounds this time of year with the coming of Hanukkah and its emphasis on light and freedom.

The origin of Hanukkah, which this year begins at sundown Sunday, dates to Hellenistic oppression of the Jews in 168 B.C., when Antiochus Epiphanes decreed the worship of images in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

After three years of fighting, the Maccabees drove their enemies from the city, regaining their religious freedom.

The eight-day festival recalling the Maccabean revolt celebrates divine light.

Legend has it that the Judeans realized their supply of oil was defiled when they entered the temple. Only one unsealed vial was found to light the candelabrum.

Though that oil should have lasted only a day, it burned for eight, providing enough time to ready a new supply and rededicate the temple.

“Hanukkah is a festival of light celebrating the fact that, during the darkest time of the year, there came a little light shining in,” said Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, an author, lecturer and scholar in residence at San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El.

Tikkun olam’s connection to Hanukkah lies in its origin, which Kushner traces to Lurianic Kabbalah.

“Rabbi Isaac Luria lived in 16th century Safed in the Galilee,” he said. “He promulgated a dazzling new cosmogenic myth for how the world came into being.”

Luria said that since God was everywhere, God had to make a space within himself to make the world.

So God arranged for there to be soul into which the light of creation was poured, but he underestimated the power of his creative light.

The result was not an orderly creation but a “cosmic cataclysm,” Kushner said.

“As a result, the world is now a heap of shards and broken vessels in which is trapped sparks of the light of creation,” he said.

“According to tikkun olam, the job of human beings is the repair of the broken world. And with each act of tikkun, or repair, some of the trapped light is freed.”

Rabbi Elliott Dorff connects tikkun olam to the Israelite Exodus in the Hebrew Bible.

Doing acts of goodness, or repair, also resonates with modern Jewish sensibilities stressing philanthropy, social justice and family relationships, said Dorff, author of the book “The Way Into Tikkun Olam” (Jewish Lights Publishing).

In the Exodus, God takes the Jews “out of slavery to Sinai. Out of slavery not to do what we want, but to take on the responsibilities we took on at Sinai,” Dorff said.

“All sorts of responsibilities are outlined at Sinai – to help the poor, welcome the stranger. All of these kinds of things are the thrust on us out of the Sinai story.

“But you can only do that if you’re a free people.”

Tikkun olam has been interpreted in different ways at various stages of Jewish history, Dorff said. Only in the past half-century, during the civil rights era, has it come to largely mean social action.

Dorff, a visiting professor at UCLA’s School of Law, also applies tikkun olam to how people treat each other in society and in family relationships.

“If you go back to biblical terms, the same concept existed,” he said.

“It got called hesed, which means loving kindness and faithful to other people. And also tzedek, and that relates to justice.

“The Bible had the same values. It just described them in these two other words.”

Today tikkun olam remains a driving force in American Jewish life. In demographic surveys, many Jews cite it as the core of their religious commitment, Dorff said.

Connecting the principle with Hanukkah might be about trying to put “the rededication to Jewish values back into Hanukkah. And among those values is to try to fix the world,” he said.

Tikkun olam even can speak to thoughtful people in other faiths, said Carl Evans, director of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Religious Studies.

“All of the religions have a vision of what life might be and also an analysis of what life is,” said Evans, noting that Christians emphasize the necessity of repairing the world in Matthew 25 of the New Testament.

“In that scene, what counts is whether you have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, given drink to the thirsty, visited the prisons and those who are sick and welcomed the stranger.”

In a world where religions constantly interact, and often compete, tikkun olam offers insight.

“We tend to focus on the uniqueness of each religion and forget about the common ground that we share,” Evans said.

“But it’s the common ground that provides the basis to repair the world.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.