In sixteen-century Safed, Rabbi Isaac Luria observed that in his world, like ours, many things seemed to be wrong. People suffered from hunger, disease, hatred, and war.
"How could God allow such terrible things to happen?" wondered Luria. "Perhaps," he suggested, "it is because God needs our help." He explained his answer with a mystical story.
When first setting out to make the world, God planned to pour a Holy Light into everything in order to make it real. God prepared vessels to contain the Holy Light. But something went wrong. The light was so bright that the vessels burst, shattering into millions of broken pieces like dishes dropped on the floor. The Hebrew phrase that Luria used for this "breaking of the vessels" is sh'virat hakaylim.
Our World is Filled with Broken Fragments
Our world is a mess because it is filled with broken fragments. When people fight and hurt one another, they allow the world to remain shattered. The same can be said of people who have pantries filled with food and let others starve. According to Luria, we live in a cosmic heap of broken pieces, and God cannot repair it alone.
That is why God created us and gave us freedom of choice. We are free to do whatever we please with our world. We can allow things to remain broken or, as Luria urged, we can try to repair the mess. Luria's Hebrew phrase for "repairing the world" is tikkun olam.
Our most important task in life is to find what is broken in our world and repair it. The commandments in the Torah instruct us, not only on how to live... but on how to mend creation.
At the very beginning of the Book of Genesis (2:15), we read that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge. God also told them that it was their job to take care of the garden and to protect it.
Take Care of the World and Protect It
The stories in the Torah tell not only of what happened long ago, but also of what happens in each generation. The stories happen over and over again in the life of each person. The Garden of Eden is our world, and we are Adam and Eve. When God says, "Take care of the garden and protect it," God is also saying, "Take care of your world and protect it."
According to one midrash [explanation or commentary], God showed Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden and said, "I have made the whole thing for you, so please take good care of it. If you wreck it, there will be no one else to repair it other than you." (Kohelet Rabba 7.13)
When you see something that is broken, fix it. When you find something that is lost, return it. When you see something that needs to be done, do it. In that way, you will take care of your world and repair creation.
If all the people in the world were to do so, our world would truly be a Garden of Eden, the way God meant it to be. If everything broken could be repaired, then everyone and everything would fit together like the pieces of one gigantic jigsaw puzzle. But, for people to begin the great task of repairing creation, they first must take responsibility.
©1998. Published by Jewish Lights Publishing,
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Eyes Remade for Wonder: A Lawrence Kushner Reader
by Lawrence Kushner.
At once deeply human and profoundly spiritual, Lawrence Kushner's books are a treat for the soul. Highly readable and written with a fine sense of storytelling, the book grapples with such weighty issues as what it means to be human and the need to incorporate humanity into political action. Although Lawrence Kushner is a rabbi, the universality of his themes -- the yearning to be close to God, the need to repair society, the effort to make sense of one's life -- will strike a chord with a wide range of readers.
About The Author
Lawrence Kushner, author, lecturer, spiritual leader, focuses on spiritual renewal with wisdom and humor. Through his books and lectures, people of every faith and background have found inspiration and new strength for spiritual search and growth. Kushner's acclaimed books include: The Book of Miracles: A Young Person's Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness, The Book of Words: Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk, God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know and more.
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