The concept of Tikkun Olam is a unique rabbinic invention and it gives an individual and collective purpose to the Jewish people unlike, as far as I am aware, any other ‘major’ religious tradition worldwide. The goal is not for the individual to escape this world into a heavenly afterlife, or transcend this world into Nirvana or some other place of bliss. Rabbinic Judaism is I believe unique in that its goal is not self-centered solely on the desires and needs of the individual’s spiritual and psychological salvation and escape from this world.
The goal of Tikkun Olam is to heal not merely oneself, but the whole Cosmos, including the Divine Itself. It is to heal psychologically, spiritually, socially, politically, and ecologically this world and the universe itself. It is not to escape this physical realm but to improve it in the here and now. Tikkun Olam is a clarion call offering you a purpose a direction toward a meaningful life. The task is to find your way; your way to contribute to yourself and thus to life – to help yourself by helping others and everything. Not to sell yourself or sacrifice yourself but to do the difficult thing—to find a way to do what you can do in some ordinary way so that you can make a difference and feel that you have and are doing just that.
When I wrote my book Find Your Way I started it off with a series of quotations. They seem like a good way to explain what I hope this book will provide for you and therefore give you a taste of what Tikkun Olam is all about.
Unexpected invitations are dancing lessons from the Divine. (G. M. Jaron, 1970)
That motto speaks to being open to unexpected possibilities of synchronicity. Synchronicity is a fancy word for coincidences that are meaningful. Finding yourself at the right place at the right time by just seeming happenstance. Be open to hope and believe that there is something out there that created everything and wishes us to work with us to fulfill its purpose and ours – together.
It is not your duty to finish the work, but you are not at liberty to neglect it. (A saying from Rabbi Tarfon, 70-135 C.E., found in the Pirke Avot—the Sayings of Our Fathers. A portion of the Talmud. [2:16, Goldin, 1955, p. 116] The work is Tikkun Olam—meaning to heal, repair, restore harmony to the Cosmos, to oneself, and to the Divine. We are invited to participate in this great work. We are not expected to complete this task just to do what we can. Everything we do is part of this task. That is the belief that underlies the Kabbalah and thus my Qabalah. We affect the cosmos. So act with care and concern. You are not required to expend yourself beyond your capacity—just to find your way to fulfill and accomplish what you can and thus to contribute as best that you can.
Traditional Jewish Kabbalah considered the doing of mitzvoth, such as keeping kosher, putting on tefillin, saying morning prayers, saying blessings at the appropriate times—when eating and drinking, seeing a rainbow, and other occurrences; all the normal ritual activities of a religious Jew were an act that had ripples into effecting a sefirah and thus added to restoring harmony to oneself, the Divine and thus to accomplish an act of Tikkun Olam.
Clearly, this book is not being written to an observant Jew, and thus what am I talking about when I ask you to participate in Tikkun Olam?
Well, I believe that all acts that increase the good, the true, the beautiful, and justice are acts that restore harmony in yourself, in society, and in the greater cosmos.
If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when? (A saying from Rabbi Hillel, 110 BCE – 10 CE, found in the Pirke Avot. [1:14, Goldin, 1955, p. 69] It is important to acknowledge our unique self and what we can do for ourselves and thus for others. Only by helping and bringing ourselves into harmony can we participate to bring harmony to others and aid in Tikkun. We must recognize our own needs and those of the community – which ultimately is the community of humanity and this whole planet. We must start with ourselves. Appreciate ourselves and our abilities and uniqueness. Then we can help in the great work.
But as the Hillel quote describes only doing work for yourself is not enough. All the self-help books and programs in the world are never enough. You are not here just for your self alone. You are never alone. Religions and spiritual practices that focus solely on your salvation are to me immensely selfish, and thus worthless. You are not born into this world to seek to leave it, the goal is not heaven or nirvana. Those are the goals of the selfish and self-centered. To obtain wealth and power and just to have it for oneself is evil and a waste. Hillel calls you to be more. To not just be for your self alone. You need to participate in your community and thus recognize that you are a citizen of the world, a participant in this ecological system of planet Earth. Therefore you owe it to society and this planet to do good, add to truth, add to beauty and add to justice for all.
So political and social acts that you perform aid in Tikkun Olam.
But do not think that political acts or recycling is the only way to contribute to social harmony. Every day and everywhere and with everyone you interact with is an opportunity to add to Tikkun Olam and thus to restore harmony. As the Zohar states in 2:263b ‘Invalid prayers, slander, angry words, belligerent deeds, and other things of this kind, reach “the other side” and strengthen its power.’ Therefore the opposite is true. Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding. Make someone smile. Make someone laugh. All of this helps and it is a chance to do good. All mazim tovim—good deeds, are ways to contribute to Tikkun Olam. Always be aware and be ready to help someone in whatever way you can. Sometimes the little acts of kindness have the greatest effects of all.
The unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates, 469-546 BCE, from Plato’s dialogue Apology, section 38a. You can not help others if you don’t understand who you are, why you are the way you are. You are a product of influences that shaped and molded you. Nature, nurture, and culture—the circumstances of your social and economic situation and context, all of this shaped you but did not fix and predetermine the outcome.
The most difficult thing in life is to know thyself. Thales was the first of the Greek philosophers. 624-546 BCE. Diogenes Laertius attributed that saying to Thales, in Laertius’s book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. To take up the task and know how you came to be – this is important. To know your limits and your biases. How that process of shaping you has affected who you seem to be, this is what you need to figure out so that you can decide what to do with all the stuff—the ideas that were shoved down into your mind that shaped who you think you are. To examine ourselves – our life and our world so that you can make your life worthwhile for your self and for others, this is why you are here. To know what to do you must know who you are. A very difficult task. You are a mystery just as the cosmos is. Something to challenge you—a puzzle and a riddle—but it is never ever solved, not until your last life-breath is taken and your tasks and your potential for contributing is done.
It seems to me that any [one] who can…grasp the love of a “life according to nature” i.e. a life in which your individual will becomes so harmonized to nature’s will as cheerfully to acquiesce in whatever she assigns to you, know that you serve some purpose in her vast machinery which will never be revealed to you—any [one] who can do this will, I say, be a pleasing spectacle, no matter what [their] lot in life.
I believe that trying to understand yourself are acts that could restore your own inner harmony and thus contribute to your ability to act and add harmony to society, to the planet, to the cosmos as well.
Not all those who wander are lost. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 10, pg. 170 in the 2004 50th edition of The Lord of The Rings. Often we need to be willing to just wander about physically, mentally, and spiritually. Trusting that we will find our way. Knowing that with knowledge and faith in ourselves and the cosmos we will not be lost. Finding your way to help your self and thus give you the strength, the wisdom, and the ability to help in Tikkun Olam. May this book offer some means to guide you along the way.
 (Tishby 1989, 2:511)
 I will push William James’s thought beyond the limits of his unintended and unknowing cultural bias to push the language to refer to any and every one.
 (Kaag 2020, 27) This quote was taken by Kaag from a letter William James wrote to his friend Thomas Ward in June of 1866. The context of that quote is this:
I [William James] have thought of you [Thomas Ward] every day since I received it [referring to Ward’s letter]…and wanted to write to you; but having been in a pretty unsettled theoretical condition myself, from which I hoped some positive conclusions might emerge worthy to be presented to you as the last word on the Kosmos and the human soul, I deferred writing from day to day, thinking that better than to offer you the crude and premature spawning of my intelligence. In vain! The conclusions never have emerged…I began the other day to read the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius…
…when we shall, I trust, patch up the Kosmos satisfactorily and rescue it from its present fragmentary condition. (Perry 1935, 230-231)