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Is Tikkun Olam the same as Social Justice?

As a (seasoned) educator working with people from all types of backgrounds, I find it fascinating how Jewish terms make their way into the lexicon of mainstream America (e.g. chutzpah). The language that any nation uses, including us Americans, can really be looked at as a barometer or indicator of the internality of that culture. In the Jewish world this rings true as well.

The rift between the vernacular usage of tikkun olam and the deep originally intended meaning of these words is quite a telling story, but a story that is rarely if ever accurately told. In truth, it is worthy of a full length documentary which could chronicle the evolution of American Jewry with all of its diversity of opinion and values. Today's generation seems to have forgotten the origin of these progressions opting to tribally focus on the differential caused by viewing things from the externality and through the narrow lens of the present.

This is a very human phenomena. People change. Leaders change. Cultures change. Is there no objective morality? Like those before us who perhaps could be compared to a family driving down the highway and didn't realize or consciously think about which lane they were in and ended up over time in a different place, fast forward more than 100 years to today to see the ramification of those decisions which may have seemed far less consequential at the time.

The assimilating Jew in an ever changing America brings echoes of a once deep and rich knowledge base but in many ways, this is only a shell, an outer facade misrepresenting the unique identity he/she once had, perhaps only generations prior. However, the strange irony is that the Jew likely doesn't realize that when they will delve deeper into themselves they will discover their unique soul which brazenly yearns for connection and elevation to what is true and eternal.

You can run but you can't hide, from yourself. Today, a mention of a scroll no longer brings the associated thought of a Torah scroll, but rather tricks the listener into thinking that they are really in control to keep "scrolling." Perhaps it is that much more important to take pause and just begin.

J.P. Katz is Director of The TRIBE Group, a boutique mentoring firm helping individuals identify, access and actualize their true potential.


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