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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Tikun Olam means pulling out dandelions

Daf Yomi Kesubos 52

Tikun Olam – Fixing the World – has become a bit of a buzz word over the last few years.  Nowadays it is synonymous with activism from human rights issues to the environment and a host of other social movements.    Generally, those carrying the contemporary banner of modern-day ‘tikun olam-ism’ are idealists – they believe in evolutionary world progress and that diplomacy can resolve all the world’s problems.  Instead of confronting and attacking our enemies, if we would simply sit down at the table and talk – one human being to another – the world would be a much better place.

Is that the meaning of tikun olam?

The Mishnah states: If one’s wife was taken captive, he is obligated to redeem her.

The Rabbis taught: If she were taken captive and they were demanding a ransom up to ten times the going rate, the first time he must redeem her.  If it happens again, if he wants to pay the ransom he may do so; if he does not he need not.  Chief Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘We should never pay more than the going rate for a ransom, due to tikun olam.’
Rashi explains: So that the kidnappers will not get into the habit of raising the price.

Sometimes tikun olam means saying no.   If we were to give these terrorists whatever they were asking, that would encourage them to kidnap another innocent.   When the world appeased Hitler in 1938, after his incursion into Czechoslovakia that was not tikun olam.  Tikun olam at that point called for unleashing the world’s military might onto Germany.   Had that happened, Jewish history would have unfolded very differently.   Likewise today, there are regimes and individuals who are set on destroying Israel, from Iran to Hamas and Hizbollah.  All the diplomacy in the world will not change their minds.

And in our own spirituality and that of our children, we must never forget that sometimes tikun olam – repairing our broken selves – means saying no.  You wouldn’t give your child a knife to play with if they asked for one!  Likewise, don’t be afraid to set limits on who they are hanging out with, who they date, and when they go out.  You needn’t feel bad when you make a rule that says ‘no going out on a Friday night’ – you’re not being mean to them; you are helping them, repairing them. 

Tikun olam means repairing the world.   Dandelions may appear beautiful, but they're weeds in disguise.  Just like repairing a beautiful garden requires pulling out the dandelion weeds, often tikun olam necessitates holding back and not giving in to the other person’s improper demands.   May you merit the strength to say no and to make this world a better, more repaired, place!