The concept of Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world,” emerges from rabbinic and kabbalistic traditions about creating a more orderly society or even cosmos.  Today, Tikkun Olam looks more like this: Giving one’s time and effort to help those in need and to create a positive social impact.

At Brandeis University, our entire school was built on the concept of social justice, so it is no surprise that there is a whole course dedicated to the idea of Tikkun Olam.  In this course, we are extending our learning beyond the classroom, by engaging in community service throughout the semester. We are writing about our service, and using our experience as “text” that we study in order to understand the challenges of Tikkun Olam. 

For my community service, I am coordinating the Brandeis Dance Marathon. This is a semester-long fundraising effort for Boston Children’s Hospital, leading up the main event, when we’ll be staying on our feet dancing for 8 hours.  It’s a lot of fun and a great way to raise money for an important cause. 

At first, however, I was a bit skeptical about whether the Brandeis Dance Marathon fits the category of Tikkun Olam. It is not solving a global crisis nor is it fixing a social problem. But as I analyzed the meaning of Tikkun Olam further, here’s why I think the Brandeis Dance Marathon is a good cause:

  1. Maimonides argued that the second highest form of Tzedakah is when neither the giver nor the recipient know each other. We most definitely know that the money is going to Boston Children’s Hospital, which is a reputable cause – they’ve been ranked in the top two children’s hospitals for 19 straight years – but we do not know what families receive the money.
  2. Tikkun Olam is not only about global concerns but also about local ones. Since Boston Children’s Hospital is a local cause (there’s a branch right in Waltham on the same street as Brandeis!), we are helping the local community and get to interact with people who have felt the impact.
  3. Tikkun Olam is about filling a need – which this definitely does. The money is donated to the general funds of Boston Children’s Hospital and is used for what ever they need most.
  4. Beyond raising money, we also have personal interaction with those affected. Every year families that have had their children stay at Boston Children’s Hospital are invited to our event to tell their story. Possibly my favorite part of the evening is when the families and their children join us in dancing for a cause.

So what is this teaching me? I’m learning that Tikkun Olam can take a lot of different forms. Thought the traditional translation is simply “repairing the world,” the real definition is a little bit more complex than that. Tikkun Olam is about person to person interaction and I’ve been working hard to infuse more personal connection into the Brandeis Dance Marathon to make sure that it really fits into the idea of Tikkun Olam that I’ve been developing.

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