by Maya North
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
Years ago, I taught beginning Hebrew to 7 and 8 year olds. They’re all grown now; they have launched into their grownup lives with what I hope is the joie de vivre and confidence they all so fully deserve. In my heart, though, they are still those sweet little faces seated at circled tables — twitchy, restless, giggling, bouncing, quiet, uncertain, wistful, loving little kids.
I could not wait to introduce them to Tikkun Olam. I had already told them how excited I was to teach them Hebrew.
“It’s our special language we use to speak to G-d,” I told them. They looked at each other, never having heard that idea before. “Oh yes,” I continued. “It’s open to anybody, but it was ours first, and it’s special and sacred.”
The kids smiled at that, and I went on.
“Now, Tikkun Olam is really amazing. Tikkun Olam is my favorite Hebrew phrase. Tikkun is a cool word. Tikkun means ‘heal’ or ‘repair,’ and that’s powerful. But Olam — olam knocks my socks off. Olam means ‘the world,’ ‘the universe,’ ‘eternity.’
“Here’s the deal. We’re all connected to each other, so every single good thing you do ripples out everywhere and makes everything better — even eternity. Trust me, G-d is really happy when you do acts of Tikkun Olam. It also means that every bad thing we do also ripples out and hurts things, but since we’re good people, that’s not going to happen all that often, right?”
I could see the kids thinking to themselves that they were just little kids. What could they do? Little kids think they’re powerless. They are tiny, fragile humans in a world filled with uncomprehending, incomprehensible giants who do things that make no sense at all. They already know that grownups think they aren’t as smart and generally don’t want to listen seriously to them. If you want to make a kid’s day, listen to her/him like a grownup and s/he’ll be your friend until they’re 50.
“I bet you guys think you can’t do this, but that’s not true. For example, say you go home and you give your mom a HUGE kiss and hug, which just makes her night. She’s so happy she goes into work the next day and she is really, really nice to her coworker who is usually a very grumpy man. So this grumpy coworker is so delighted that somebody was nice to him that he goes home and he gives his kid a huge kiss and hug just like you gave your mom and tells his daughter he’s proud of her. Now, his daughter had been thinking she wasn’t very smart, but because of what her dad said, she tries really hard in school and she does really well and goes on to college and gets a great job. And because she’s such a positive and loving person now, she finds a kiddo in a really poor part of the world and sponsors that kiddo, who grows up and cures cancer. And all this happened because you gave your mom that great big kiss and hug. You are all that powerful — every one of you.”
I went on to explain that if bad things happened in the world, it was certainly not their fault and they were not to worry about that, but that there was a very good chance that any good they saw in this world was at least partly helped by the good things they did. I watched as the little light of Tikkun Olam came alive in each of those much-beloved little faces.
In Michael Talbot’s marvelous opus “The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality” (copyright 1991, Harper-Collins), he cites a physicist named David Bohm who asserted that this universe is not an assembly of many individuated objects but that we are literally all one object. Essentially, we are as ripples on water. We are individuated, as ripples are — but we never cease to be part of the water.
So it is that the hug a child gives a mother can ripple out wider and wider, touching the coworker, the coworker’s child, and the impoverished little one who grows up to cure cancer. It is the Allness of One and the Oneness of All. Once we understand that, we realize that while we may not be able to fix the entire planet on our own, if we work hard on our little corner of it, this effort builds a resonance that combines with the efforts of others and grows. Our one little effort eventually contributes to the evolution of this world, the safety and happiness and health of its people and creatures, and all of its future generations. It all starts with one person, one act of kindness. It starts with me. It starts with you.
So — let’s get started, shall we?
(This column is dedicated to all the people of Sandy Hook elementary school, their lost ones, and everyone who grieves.)