לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין להבטל ממנה
(Pirkei Avot 2:16)
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” -Rumi
Every morning we say לתקן עולם במלכות שקי. What does it mean to “fix” the world? How do we do that?
The world is a frightening place. Terror attacks, wars, scandals. Bad news all around. Do you ever look around and think that this needs to change? If you do, you’re right. Making the world a better place is a fundamental belief in Judaism, but it is vague and hard to achieve. To make the world a better place, first we must make ourselves better, more complete people.
Throughout our history we see people improving on their own middot in order to make the world a better place. We can start with the obvious, Avraham avinu. He made himself into a righteous person with integrity and faithfulness. He inspired so many people around him to follow a righteous path, and it is quite evident that he changed the world. He is the father of monotheism! How did he get that title? By first working on himself.
Dona Gracia Mendes was a Sephardic Morano. During the Spanish inquisition she fled to Portugal and was forced to convert to Christianity. She managed to escape oppression, and she fled to Europe. Dona Gracia was extremely wealthy, and with her money she helped Jews escape Portugal and countries that oppressed their Jews, and she built Yeshivot and Shuls. Dona Gracia single handedly changed the fate of hundreds of Sephardic Jews - it is obvious that she made the world a better place. But she was only able to make the world a better place after she escaped from Portugal and worked on freeing herself. She was only able to better the world after she made herself a more complete person with complete freedom.
The reason why we need to start with ourselves when looking to change the world is because the world is arduous and exhausting. Changing ourselves is also arduous and exhausting, but a little more manageable. Working on bettering ourselves changes the world because we all have an effect on everyone around us.
While self reflection isn’t a new concept, it is important to take the qualities we hope to perfect in ourselves and exemplify them in order to improve the world and the communities we live in. As the Jewish people, it is our responsibility to make the world a better place, to improve upon ourselves - spiritually, physically, and emotionally - and it is quite a daunting task. However a small gesture, of kindness, faith, justice, integrity, love, or respect can set off a chain reaction. We are faced with a choice each moment of our lives. Hashem gave man free will, בחירה חופשית, so we may use it to better serve Him. As we reflect upon ourselves, we can see ways and places to improve.
With kindness, justice, strength, and humility, we must take on the role of לתקן עולם במלכות שקי. We must glorify and honor the ultimate gift of life and this world that was given to us by Hashem, and hopefully we will merit a place in Olam Habah.
In Parashat Bereshit, we see the first mention of צלם אלוקים. Chazal frequently cite the concept of צלם אלוקים in order to emphasize man’s uniqueness. But is comparing man to Hashem a slippery slope? How can we possibly imagine or even pretend that we are remotely like Hashem?
The Rambam explains that by depicting man as having צלם אלוקים, the Torah highlights man’s intellectual and spiritual potential. He continues to explain that this combination of spirituality, intellect, and physical capacity is what inherently makes us capable of sin. It is exactly our physical and intellectual limitations that provide temptation and opportunity for us to sin. We see this in אדם הראשון. This person, created in the “image of Hashem” who has the strongest and most obvious connection to him was tempted and sinned- submitting to his physical and intellectual weaknesses instead of using them to nurture his נשמה. We learn from this that it is our responsibility to overcome our physical limitations and temptations, to use the physical and intellectual capacities that we have to develop and strengthen our middot, to become more שלם and exemplify these middot. In doing so, we become closer to Hashem and closer to the ultimate goal of completing the world. This job will never be full complete, and we cannot always expect perfection, but it is the journey that unites us, and the work that is our responsibility. As it is written in Pirkei Avot ב:ט"ז.
“לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין להבטל ממנה.” We are not responsible to complete it, but we must always continue to work upon ourselves and the world around us.
So when faced with struggle, when we search for meaning in a world that is often bleak and full of violence and flaws, seek to improve, to better yourself into an אדם שלם - a full and complete person, a person created in the image of Hashem. By internalizing the middot of Humility ענוה, Justice צדק, Kindness אדיבות and Strength עצמה, we can continue the work and merit the משיח and עולם הבא, בעזרת הקדוש ברוך הוא.
Green: Humility - ענוה
Yellow: Kindness - אדיבות
Red: Strength - עוצמה
Blue: Justice - צדק
We broke out Color War 2016 with this amazing video: