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Budapest

Parshat Yitro

This week's Parsha is called "Yitro". Yitro was Moses's father-in-law and is often considered as the first convert to Judaism.

Since there is only a small shul with very occasional services in my hometown, I usually get Torah commentaries from the net, print one or two on Friday mornings and read them on Shabbat. It does not make up for not going to shul, of course, but for me it is a way to connect to the Jewish people worldwide on that sacred day and also to share the rich heritage of commentaries on the different parshiot (weekly divisions of the Torah).

This week, I would like to share part of a commentary by Shlomo Riskin that deals with both converts and the concept of "tikkun olam".

Tikkun olam (תיקון עולם) is a Hebrew phrase which translates to "repairing the world." It is important in Judaism and is often used to explain the Jewish concept of social justice.

Shlomo Riskin's commentary:
Since Israel is the land set aside for the Israeli nation-state, the sovereign society which enables us to serve as a “beacon-light to the gentile nations,” the back-drop of the Temple Mount from whence the message of ethical monotheism and a G-d of love, justice and peace will eventually be accepted by the world, the final expression of the success of our mission and the true gift of our free will can only come to fruition in Israel and Jerusalem. And since the task G-d has set for us and we have accepted for ourselves is a formidable one, fraught with danger and demanding enormous discipline and dedication, the best metaphor for our challenge is climbing to the top of a steep and rocky mountain. In the words of Rav Nachman, “The entire world is a very narrow bridge, (from which it is all too easy to fall into a deep abyss). But the essence is, not to be afraid.” And when one succeeds in climbing a mountain like Grizim, Eybal or Everest, the “high” at the top, the sense of accomplishment and success, is a gift of satisfaction which has no equal.

A number of years ago, I truly understood the gift of our freedom of choice to fulfill our mission of “tikkun olam”, the perfection of the world. One of our Yeshivot which combines Torah study and army service was under heavy enemy attack during this current Oslo War. Forty IDF soldiers and two tanks were protecting the Academy; each Thursday I gave our students a shiur (Torah lecture). One particular Thursday, one of the soldiers came in to hear my class; I noticed him immediately, not only because he took copious notes but mainly because he was very tall and very Black. In a discussion with him after class, he told me he came from Nigeria, his name was Dan, and he became Jewish because of “tikkin olam,” his pronunciation of tikkun olam, the perfection of the world. He explained that when a delegation of Israel’s ‘Peace Corps to the Third World’ came to Nigeria to impart new techniques in agriculture and medicine, he was befriended by one of them who happened to be an observant Jew. This “friend” taught him about “tikkun olam,” invited him to visit Israel, and the rest is history.

I invited him to share Friday evening dinner with my family and me. He accepted for the following week – but never got to my home. He was killed in the line of duty by a Palestinian sniper’s bullet. Only the Yeshiva attended his funeral at Mount Herzl cemetery; his family in Nigeria was informed, but never responded….

Three months later, my wife woke me up from a Shabbat afternoon nap and apologetically explained that I had important guests. I found a middle-aged Black couple sitting in my living-room drinking tea, “We don’t understand why our son came to Israel, we don’t understand why our son converted to Judaism, and we don’t understand why our son had to die. Everyone we asked said that you could tell us, that shortly before he was killed he had a long conversation with you…”

We spoke for more than three hours. A few months ago I was invited to the “hanukkat habayit” (house-dedication) of Dan’s parents and put up the mezuzah. This amazing couple went to Ulpan Akiba to learn Hebrew, converted to Judaism, and now have made their home in Netanya. I hammered in the mezuzah; Dan’s mother spoke. She said, “All my friends back home in Nigeria ask why we made such a move to such a dangerous place. There is only one reason: ‘tikkun olam.”

Comments

Tikkun Olam

It's a lovely story. I only wish Riskin had included more of voices of Dan and his family. What does tikkun olam mean to them?

My partner was drawn to the idea of tikkun olam...right up until he discovered the mystical origins of the concept. Broken vessels? he scoffed.

If we read the Lurianic story literally and believe that tikkun olam will ultimately result in the dissolution of the material universe, I can see his point.

It's still a beautiful story.