Skip to comments.TIKKUN OLAM AND THE STATE OF THE UNION
Posted on 02/01/2003 12:34:24 PM PST by CBP
Much commentary has been written about President Bush's State of the Union address, but little attention given to what, for me, was a key to understanding his message, motivation, and character. It was the simple but eloquent statement: "...we must also remember our calling, as a blessed country, is to make this world better." This short phrase encapsulated the innate decency and world-view of George Bush as a profoundly religious man, intent on carrying out the duty of care and redemption of God's world. He believes, as did the founders of this nation, that America was and is blessed by God, and that this blessing carries a duty to heal the problems of the world, over which we have been given stewardship. That faith was echoed in the President's final words: "We Americans have faith in ourselves but not in ourselves alone. We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the living God behind all of life and all of history. May he guide us now and may God continue to bless the United States of America."
For over two thousand years, observant Jews have daily recited a prayer (Aleinu / V'al Kein) taking upon themselves the obligation to follow the Commandments of the Torah and, by so doing, "to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty." In this role, the Jewish people and nation are to be an example to the world--a beacon of righteousness and holiness. The prayer has an ancient pedigree, starting with the Biblical injunction in Leviticus "You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy." Many believe the prayer to have been composed by Joshua. There is a reference in the ancient Talmudic text, Pirkei Avos, or Ethics of Our Fathers, which states: "Rabbi Tarfon taught: It is not up to you to complete the work (of perfecting the world), but neither are you free to refrain from doing it."
This duty to perfect the world is known as Tikkun Olam, or "repairing the world" in the phrase used by the sixteenth century Kabbalist, Isaac Luria, to describe the proper role of humanity in the cosmos. Modernly, it means to make the world a better place, just as the President stated, except that in his formulation, the obligation is on America, not just the Jewish people. This is certainly not the first time that Jewish religious concepts have influenced the leaders of our nation, who frequently analogized America to ancient Israel. When John Winthrop landed with 700 Pilgrims in Salem, he admonished them: "Now the only way to avoid [ruin] is to do Justly, to love mercy, [and] to walk humbly with our God. ... We shall find that the God of Israel is among us...." After Thomas Jefferson had drafted the Declaration of Independence, he proposed that the Seal of the new nation should depict "The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night." America was to be the new Israel, subject to God and his commandments, freed from bondage and embarked on a new national life. As President Dwight Eisenhower observed, "This Biblical story of the Promised land inspired the founders of America. It continues to inspire us."
President George Washington stressed this theme in his letter to the Hebrew Congregations in Savannah, Georgia: "May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land--whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent Nationstill continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah." John Adams, second President, wrote to a friend: "The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation....[God] ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe....[which is] to be the great essential principle of morality, and consequently all civilization." His son, John Quincy Adams, sixth President, wrote: "From the day of the Declaration...they (the American people) were bound by the laws of God...."
Those laws of God, as subsumed in the Ten Commandments, were instrumental in forming the legal code of the new American republic, since each one of the Commandments had been adopted as law by 12 of the original 13 American colonies. William Federer, whose Americas God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations is a virtual treasure-trove of useful information, has a new book, The Ten Commandments & their Influence on American Law. This historical study conclusively shows the significant role played by the Commandments in the founding of our system of law and government, from state constitutions to statutory enactments and court decisions. Every branch of government has acknowledged the impact of the Ten Commandments on our culture and legal system, in accord with the view of John Quincy Adams: "The law given on Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code." President Harry Truman concurred: "The fundamental basis of this nations laws was given to Moses on the Mount."
The founders incorporated that code into the judicial law of the new nation, making this, as Dennis Prager has famously observed, the only nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles and values, with due recognition given to their Jewish inheritance. And so, it was with a feeling of pride and gratitude that I recognized the Presidents acknowledgment of our common American duty of Tikkun Olam healing and repairing and perfecting the world.
This duty to perfect the world is known as Tikkun Olam
You imply that the Pirkei Avot uses the term "Tikkun Olam." Is that true?