Yaakov Menken recently reminded me of an AMAZING syndicated article I read by Joel Alperson. He quotes him approvingly on the renowned CrossCurrents blog http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2011/08/02/someone-finally-gets-it-again/ 

Basically, I agree with Menken- although Alperson is not "Frum," he expressed something that we can all agree with.  This is that the fact that many Jewish Congregations and Orgs spend most of their time working on "TIKKUN OLAM" is  extremely dangerous. 
Sure, there are Jewish sources on the importance of helping the wider world. Its certainly important, but these groups are distorting the proportional isignificance of the concept. There are many other Mitzvot that we need to teach our children about. Also, Tikkun Olam was not intended to serve as a catchphrase describing liberal humanitarianism repackaged to sound Jew-ey. It refers to a kabbalistic concept that is somewhat similar, but not at all identical in intent. 

A generation of liberal Jews have not been given a proper Torah education. Instead, their leaders have searched out what they would like to hear, and found (authentic) Torah sources to support it. Kind of like what the Talmud says about the time right before the coming of Moshiach- that

" the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog" (Sotah 9:15) 

How so? Just like a dog looks behind it to see where its master is heading in order to get there first, the ones in charge will neglect to lead. They will instead try to make reactionary decisions based upon what they think others would like.  But our community's first responsibility is to our selves. 

If your house was burning (G-d Forbid) then you would take care of that first before tending to a similar problem on the other side of town. Jewish activists rightly are involved in helping eliminate poverty and prevent damage to the environment. But the sources are clear that we have a primary responsibility to ourselves, as well as our families and communities. The current state of collective decay, with an over fifty percent intermarriage rate and tremendous assimilation and alienation, constitutes a "Pikuach nefesh" (threat to life) of the first order!! 

We can't rely on others to help us. There exist concentric circles of lessening responsibility, beginning with ourselves. Like the quote from the Gerrer Rebbe who tried to change the broader community, but met with no success. Then years later he tried a smaller area, and so on...finally, he concluded that he ought to focus on helping himself. Then he saw each of these broader areas of need becoming affected- the changes he made in himself radiated outward. 

Why is this the case? In part, the more "local" the focus of our energies, the more intimate our knowledge, and the greater our investment. We are more likely to know what is needed, and to stay until the job is done. Imagine a single parent who goes out to night clubs every night during the week. Why does the thought of this upset people so much?? Because they aren't doing what they are SUPPOSED TO DO. 

Instead of donating money to some place you will never visit, let's resolve to find a place within one mile of our homes that could use some help. Even better, find a person who spiritually is closer to you, like a member of your family. The requirement to donate ten percent of our income to charity has a priority list enshrined in Jewish Law that discusses who comes first. In general, close relatives come before more distant ones. Causes near our homes, and concerning our faith community take priority. 

In general, Judaism views the fulfillment of our basic responsibilities as more praiseworthy than going the extra mile and doing something we are not required to do. Also, I am starting to think that I see this in the structure of halacha. When we fulfill an interpersonal mitzva, then we are doing it because it is our G-d-given job to do so. Then, it is not about ourselves. As discussed in previous posts, the more our self-awareness enters the equation, the less likely we are to be effective. People sense that we are trying to change them for our benefit, and resist mightily. It has to be as self-less as possible. 

 Similarly, if we spend all of our time helping some cause across the world before discharging ourselves of our Torah- imposed duty, then its all about ourselves. Torah, I think, helps us to avoid this by requiring us to perform mitzvot that benefit others. We improve ourselves by connecting to G-d through the mitzva and discharging our obligation. In so doing, we aid others in a more effective manner by doing it in such a way that we know for sure that G-d wills it. This is the greatest blessing for successs. 


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    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to jjgrossm@gmail.com

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