One of the key verses in our Torah reading this week is “You shall not wrong one another.” Leviticus 25:17. This is a fundamental principle of Judaism and underpins the whole of our tradition. It is connected to the concept of tikun olam – repairing the world and tikun ha-nefesh – repairing the soul.
When we let our moral compass be guided by the principle “You shall not wrong one another,” we can’t help but do the work of tikun, repair. It’s interesting that some people are drawn more to tikun olam, repairing the world, or social justice work. And others are drawn to self-improvement, tikun ha-nefesh. Both are just as important as the other, for if we spend our time helping fix the world ‘out there’ and don’t look inside, we are sure to have an imbalance in our lives.
And if we put energy into self-improvement without also taking on projects to help those in need, we are also sure to have an imbalance in our life.
Repairing the world and repairing our own soul are both important and need to have a place in our lives. We need to give some time and energy to projects that will help improve the world, whether it be donating money to a good cause, or spending time on a social justice cause. And we also need to make time for self-reflection and improvement.
The two phrases – tikun olam and tikun ha-nefesh were first coined in the sixteenth century by Rabbi Isaac Luria of Tsfat, Israel. Another tradition that started in Tsfat at that time is using the counting of the omer as a process of tikun – improvement.
The omer is a 7 week period between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, during which there is a biblical obligation to count the days. The period is called the omer because it was connected to the bringing of an omer (a certain measurement) of barley to the Temple. Even after the Temple was destroyed, the counting of the omer continued and was seen as a period of inner purification by the mystics of Tsfat. Each week was dedicated to the exploration of a different quality: compassion, strength, leadership are but a few. This week, the inner quality of Humility is the focus of our Omer practice. We think about our talents and good fortunes and recognize how lucky we are. We recognize that our talents are partly due to our own efforts and partly a product of external forces such as people giving us help, advice or teaching us. It is a week to give thanks for the help we have received to bring us to where we are. It is also a good time to reflect on how our humility might open us to learning from others and taking on this week’s Torah verse: “You shall not wrong one another” Leviticus 25:17 to a new level.
May each of us be blessed with a heart of compassion and the fortune to be surrounded by the kindness of others.