WIE: In Judaism, as opposed to many of the Eastern traditions,
we are encouraged to fully engage with the world as part and parcel
of our spiritual path. Why is embracing life in the world seen as such
a cornerstone of Jewish worship?
RABBI DAVID EDELMAN:
You serve God through
by using the world correctly, not by divorcing yourself from the world
and living in a cave. When God created the world, he created it as a
positive thing. And everything in the world can be used in the service
of God. You see, Judaism elevates
the physical world into a spiritual
entity. For instance, in the way the Jew observes the Sabbath, eating
itself is elevated; it's not gluttony to eat a special meal to enhance
God's day. And making the blessing over the wine—it's a heavenly thing.
gave us the Torah, which is God's wisdom and God's desire. It tells
us how to live a spiritual life, how to live in the world and how to
utilize everything in the world for goodness. They say everything in
this world is a reflection of what's in the world above. We love our
children so much because God loves his children. We want the best for
our children—God wants the best for us. The question is asked, "How
can we become close to God?" The Talmud answers, "Mimic God,
do what God does." God feeds the world; he has the sun rise in
the morning and he puts down rain. So, we also give to others. The world
was created in chessed,
in kindness. So, be kind to others. God
was involved in the burial of Moses; we also take care of the dead.
Like this, we follow the ways of God. We look upon wealth as a blessing
from God. Look how much you can do with wealth! A person in poverty
is like dead—you can't do anything. If you look upon everything God
gives us as a blessing, you will always
use it in a positive
way. And all the vicissitudes of life and the evil things will just
fall away because you're occupied all the time with doing positive,
This world is not a world for angels; it's a world for human
beings. And our mission is to bring heaven down to earth. The first
Lubavitch Rebbe said that if someone goes and separates themselves from
the world to study for the whole day locked up in a synagogue, it may
be a wonderful thing to do, but it's a cop-out. That's not what we were
created to do; that's not our purpose in the world. We are here with
a mission to improve ourselves and to improve the world, and it's a
path that's fraught with difficulty.
WIE: Perhaps one of the most frequently quoted passages from
the Bible that illustrates man's relationship to the world is the story
of Jacob and his dream of a ladder that reaches from earth all the way
to heaven. Commenting on this metaphor, Jewish scholar David Ariel writes:
"With his head in heaven and his feet firmly on earth, man serves
to bring the sparks of the Divine down into the world. . . . When we
help another person to ascend the ladder, we finish the work of creation.
. . . God stands in need of us because only we can perfect the world."
What does it mean to bring the sparks of God into the world?
You see, the Almighty put sparks of God in each of us and
in every single thing of creation. And when a person uses the things
of the world correctly, it elevates those sparks. We usually don't see
much godliness in inanimate objects like rocks, but everything
has in it a spark of life.
we use everything in creation in the right way, when we say a blessing
before we eat and before we drink, and when we observe the mitzvot
[commandments], we elevate
the sparks of God that are in all
of creation. When you use something in the wrong way, you are destroying
creation. Using your power of speech to lie or using things to do wrong—to
hurt somebody or steal from somebody or hate somebody—is taking the
sparks of godliness that God put in the world and destroying them. You
don't want to do that; you are destroying the sparks of creation.
WIE: How exactly is it that God's holiness becomes manifest
in the world?
By action. Every person is motivated in three ways. We call
these our three garments: action, speech, and thought. When it says
in the Torah, "Thou shalt not steal," it means you can't steal
on any of the three levels. Not in your hands, not in your mouth, and
not in your mind. And thought—that's the worst, because it's a higher
level. You have to work to perfect the higher levels, you have to study
and contemplate, you don't just get it all overnight.
WIE: According to the teachings in Judaism, it is incumbent
upon all Jews to do everything they can to rectify injustice and so
bring God into the world. This obligation is known as
the reparation of the world, and it addresses virtually every aspect
of our daily lives—our relationship to family, money, work, social justice,
and even childrearing. Can you explain what is meant by "the reparation
of the world" and how this sacred commandment is fulfilled?
The concept of tikkun olam,
perfecting the world,
comes from the very first chapter in the Bible. At the end of the six
days of creation, it says, "God has created everything 'to do.'
" And it looks like the sentence doesn't end—"to do"
what? Now, the great Rashi* explained that God meant that with everything
in this world, we must now "do," or "repair," or
"make full." You see, God left us a little part in the world
that he wants us
to do. And that's repairing the world, that's
For example, God created the Sabbath, and by sanctifying the day, we
fulfill that part of the creation of the world. You make kiddush
[blessing] Friday night, you pray Saturday morning, you take out the
Torah, you refrain from work—you sanctify the day by your actions. And
in that way, you help God in the creation of the world. Tikkun olam
brings a sense of perfection into the world. By our doing good deeds—by
charity, a kind word, helping another person in need, teaching someone—we
make the world a better place, a more whole place. That's tikkun
you're helping people. And that's the kind of life we have
see, by doing just things in the world, you are completing God's task
on this earth. We say, "Any judge who judges a law correctly is
a partner with God in creation." That's tikkun olam.
that permeates every area of your life. Being honest with your fellow
person—you can't cheat, you can't steal, you can't lie—all of that is
. Otherwise, the world goes awry, it goes crazy; people
take advantage of other people, trying to be better than everybody else,
it's a dog-eat-dog world. That's the opposite of tikkun olam;
that destroys the world. Why were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
completely destroyed? What did they do that was so bad? They said, "Mine
is mine, yours is yours. Don't come over to me and I won't go over to
you." They were extremely selfish. That was it. And that's the
opposite of tikkun olam
WIE: The great mystic and founder of the Hassidic movement,
the Baal Shem Tov, said, "Man is the channel that brings godliness
to the world, but only the perfect individual, a
can do this properly. By following the
tzaddik and listening
to his teachings, the spiritual novice can experience an untarnished
vision of the Divine." What is the role of the
perfecting the world?
Every person has a responsibility to yourself, to your family,
and to your community. But the tzaddik's
the world. They give direction to the world. God sends down thirty-six
righteous people at any point in time to keep the world in existence.
Many of them are women. Many of them are hidden. And if you're lucky
enough to be under the guidance of a tzaddik,
boy, it's so much
There are many smart people in the world, but a tzaddik
is one who is sensitive to the soul of another. The most dominant aspect
of the tzaddik's
persona is his soul, and when he sees another
person, he sees their soul. A tzaddik
looks in your eyes and
he'll see what the source of the problem is, and he'll be able to direct
you in the right way.
*Biblical and Talmudic commentator (1040 - 1105)