A Class Assignment on Tikkun Olam

Jennifer Phillips wrote the following essay for a course she is taking as as part of a Masters program at Spertus College that she wants to share with our community.

Over the last several months the board and staff at Keshet, have been going through a strategic planning process. As a part of this process. we have been identifying and clarifying our organizational values. After much work we selected Tikkun Olam and Kehilla as two of our values (integrity and collaboration being the other two). Our mission’s goals are to create a community of belonging where people with disabilities learn, play, work, live, and grow with people of all abilities. Creating community (kehilla) is important values to us. Additionally, we felt that Tikkun Olam was important for us to have as a value because the work we do improves the world for both disabled and non-disabled individuals.

I have begun to consider other values and sensibilities that underlie the value of Tikkun Olam. Recently our board chair wrote an article about disability justice and the Jewish value of Tzedek that both resonated for me and stuck with me, and made me think about how the notion of Tzedek has become important in the work we do to repair the world. In her article she wrote “There is a moral imperative in Judaism that includes justice. Justice is intrinsic to our Jewish values and taught by the Torah: “Tzedek, Tzedek Tierdof: justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Adonai your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20). The Torah teaches this ideal of justice for the benefit of society— one that is morally right and fair for all its members. It is more than just an ideal, though, it is an obligation”.

The word “Tzedek” is from the same root as “Tzaddik, a righteous person who embodies the quality of “Tzedek.” A Tzaddik treats all people in the world equitably and pursues justice because he or she understands that all humans are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the divine. “Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God. Still greater was God’s love in that He gave to man the knowledge of his having been so created.” (Pirke Avot 3:18).”

It is with this perspective that I begin to look at Tikkun Olam and Tzedek in pursuit of a fair and just society for all people with disabilities. The work we do to repair the world and create a more just and inclusive society for individuals with disabilities improves the lives of all individuals.

In our daily work we talk about inclusion of people with disabilities, but for us inclusion of people with disabilities leads to the creation of a community of belonging – which is the end goal that leads us to a more just and righteous world. Currently, there is not equality for individuals with disabilities. Not all buildings, programs, services, or opportunities are available to people with disabilities. Some of these inequities are born out of real barriers like access, while others are due to attitudinal barriers.

Unfortunately, some laws aren’t enforced , often the voices of people with the lived experiences are overlooked, implied biases exist and some services lack necessary funding to enable disabled people to be included in all aspects of our society. These are injustices that lead to an imperfect world. The verse from Psalms 133, “Hinei Ma Tov U’ma Na’yim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad” –“Behold how good and pleasant it is when all people live together as one” embodies the why of what we do. We know that the world is a better place when all people, including those with disabilities, are welcomed and included into the fabric of our communities.

The concept of treating all people equally, with respect to their uniqueness and differences, is clearly articulated in our Jewish texts and illustrates that inclusion of all people is a Jewish value. As I consider the Jewish values of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam, I can’t help but connect to the Torah commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:18) Humanity was created in the image of G-D and we disrespect G-D when we show disrespect to any human being. We are obligated to treat everyone with respect. Judaism teaches us to celebrate everyone’s individual uniqueness, and treat others as we would want to be treated. V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha – love your neighbor as yourself – offers the foundation for understanding moral and just behavior. It is the foundation which obligates us to create a just society for all and in so doing we are a part of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.

Other Jewish texts reflective of the value of inclusion as a righteous societal responsibility include:

“For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:5)

“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…And God created man in His image in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God. Still greater was God’s love in that He gave to man the knowledge of his having been so created.” (Ethics of the Fathers 3:18)

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5:
• “A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the holy one, blessed by God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique.”
• “(An individual man was created) to show the greatness of God. While a person stamps many coins from a single die, and they are all alike, the King of kings has stamped every person with the die of Adam, yet not one of them is like his fellow.”

“Every member of the people of Israel is obligated to study Torah—whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with physical disability.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, Ch. 10)

Two translations from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, 4:3:
• ” Azzai taught: Do not disdain any person. Do not underrate the importance of anything for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing without its place in the sun.”
• “Treat no one lightly and think nothing is useless, for everyone has a moment and everything has a place.”

“Do not look at the container, but what is in it.” (Pirke Avot 4:27)

“You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind”. (Leviticus 19:14)

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