The DNA of Judaism

July 2017 Newsletter Article

The first part of Congregation Shalom’s mission statement reads, “Congregation Shalom is a Reform Jewish community committed to education, spiritual growth, and Tikkun Olam (healing the world).” As one reads this, it is easy to separate out the categories–Education, Spiritual Growth, Tikkun Olam, as if they are distinct and non-intersecting endeavors. For instance, if we were to reflect on the pursuit of Education, we might conclude that studying Jewish texts, reading in general, attending lectures and classes, watching movies, reading newspapers, discussions with others, etc. would all be actions that fulfill this mission. If we were to think about a path towards Spiritual Growth, we might consider that prayer, ritual and meditation would fall into this category. As for Tikkun Olam, we would probably think about tzedakah and performing acts of gimilut chasidim–acts of loving kindness. For instance, helping at Mitzvah Day, cooking for the food shelter, donating clothes, teaching English to refugees, and more, would all be examples of Tikkun Olam.

What if, however, we were to turn this idea on its head? What if the pursuit of Tikkun Olam, was actually THROUGH education? What if by performing Tikkun Olam, we grew spiritually? What if education led our spirits to grow more aware of the Holy? What if our understanding of what the Holy One wants from us and our understanding of Jewish ethical and spiritual texts, were to lead us to perform Tikkun Olam? WHAT IF…. What if EDUCATION, SPIRITUAL GROWTH, and TIKKUN OLAM, were actually interwoven with one another as a DNA Helix! A DNA molecule is actually a very simple, molecule, that is twisted like a long ladder. The shape is known as a double helix. Take a look below to see the image; see the twisted ladder, with rungs that are four alternating chemical bases: adenine, thymine, guanine and cystosine.

I imagine, that the DNA of Judaism actually works the same way; that Education, Spiritual Growth and Tikkun Olam, are the twisted rungs, each essential to the core of Jewish life. They are not separate and distinct, rather interconnected paths leading to the same thing.

Let me share an example of what I mean. In our prayers, we open our hearts and spirits to the vision of peace in the world. Our prayers Oseh Shalom, Shalom Rav and Sim Shalom all embody this message. The Aleinu also communicates the vision of a world that is whole, which IS the goal of Tikkun Olam–the Healing of the World:

We pray with all our hearts: let violence be gone; let the day come soon
when evil shall give way to goodness, when war shall be forgotten; hunger
be no more, and all at last shall live in freedom. O Source of life: may we,
created in your image, embrace one another in friendship and joy. Then shall we be one family, and then shall the Holy One be present in all the earth.

From my perspective, one of the most important ways to fulfill the spiritual goal of Shalom (peace), Sh’leimut (wholeness) and Tikkun Oalm (the healing of the world), is THROUGH education. In the Mishnah, the first code of Jewish law, we read, “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.” The 12th century scholar, Moses Maimonides, offers another perspective, “Wisdom is cognizance of the self”. I love how these two perspectives balance and bring perspective to the other. For us to pursue wisdom, we must open ourselves to learn from others; people from different cultures, faiths and personal histories – people who might think differently than we do and have different opinions. For us to pursue wisdom, we must also open ourselves to self-examination: Why do we believe the things that we do? What are our prejudices? What are our fears? Are we able to be open-minded and learn from others?

In the book of Proverbs, we are taught to “Give our hearts to learning”. I believe, that if we can learn about others, the knowledge we gain, will inspire us to do the work of Tikkun Olam and in doing so, we will grow spiritually.

In world that is so conflicted and fractured, as ours is today, perhaps, one of the greatest acts of Tikkun Olam, is simply to spend some time learning about those we consider “other” than ourselves and even taking the step of talking to those whose opinions and beliefs differ from our own. The reality is, how much do we really know about people who live in different parts of our country or the world? How much do we know about their cultures and their beliefs? How much are we impacted by stereo-types and misinformation? Probably, for all of us, more that we can imagine.

Today, in passing, I saw a quiz from the Pew Research Center testing how much Americans know about religion in America. It was a simple 15 question quiz, but what I found most enlightening, was to see how little those of different faiths knew about the most basic teaching of other faiths. Interested in how well you would do or to see how others taking the test did? Here is the link to try for yourself. After you find your score, continue reading below to see how you compare to those of other faith groups in America.

As we reflect on the intersection of learning, spirit and healing, I leave you with this teaching by Noah BenShea – “If two people discover each other’s blindness, it is already growing light.”

Have a wonderful summer!