I spent a month this summer teaching at Camp Ramah New England in Palmer, MA. This year's theme was Etz Chayim/Tree of Life. “Etz Chayim” usually refers to the Torah, and each teacher could choose their own way to teach the theme. I knew my take immediately: tikkun olam/repairing the world. Lately, I’ve been feeling strongly that tikkun olam is the main point of the Torah, and our pursuit of social justice is the gift we give to the world.
Clearly, we live in an imperfect, flawed world, but we become God’s partners when we work toward creating a whole, perfected world. Examples of these kinds of actions include treating others with compassion, visiting the sick, and following laws in the Torah that embody mitzvot bein adam le-chavero/commandments between one person and another). Pursuit of social justice is lived when we care for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in our midst. When Dev./Deut. 26:12-13 teaches us to feed these three groupings of people (and we should interpret those groups more broadly today) who lack their own community or financial support, we learn that we must step in to meet their needs. Later in the parasha, we read that we will be cursed (27:19) if we don’t attend to the rights of these same people who are often lacking the power and resources to stand up for themselves.
When I think about the curriculum of the Epstein High School of Jewish Studies, one of my concerns is whether or not we teach texts and concepts and skills that have life-long impact on our students’ lives. We must impart to them teachings that will shape their minds as Jews, and this includes tikkun loam and social justice. As Rabbi Bradley Artson teaches, justice “is the primary Jewish contribution to the human spirit”.
In the coming years, I envision adding an active tikkun olam component to the Epstein School, because it’s not good enough to only study and learn Torah; it must be lived as well. Our students do currently volunteer in the Jewish community representing Epstein, and I am proud of them, but I want to make sure we’re hitting a deeper note with our efforts, one in which our teens more directly feel that they are tipping the balance on our community’s scale from shaky to stable, from despair to hope. We will be looking for partners in this endeavor, and if you are interested in working with us, please let me know.
It is up to all of us to engage in acts of tikkun olam, big or small, so that we may embody the words of Torah, and in turn be ‘blessed in our comings and blessed in our goings’ (Dev 28:6).