I heard this story by physician Rachel Naomi Remen during an On Being podcast today. It’s a story she remembers her grandfather reciting about tikkun olam, the repairing of the cosmos:
In the beginning there was only the holy darkness; the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world — the world of a thousand, thousand things — emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.
Then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident.
The vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke and the wholeness of the world — the light of the world — was scattered into a thousand, thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people. To lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.
This is a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world. And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.
This story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you; that’s around you.
While deeply resonating with many of my own recent ponders, this story also reminded me of a parable that has long baffled me:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. -Matthew 13:44
How did the man find the treasure? Was he looking for it or did he stumble upon it? What kind of treasure was it? Why did he hide it again? Who owned the field? What does the man do with the treasure after he buys the field? And how is this anything like the kingdom of heaven?
For some reason I think these two stories interpret one another. There is something unique and of ultimate value (perhaps the light of the world from Rachel’s grandfather’s story) embedded within each of us. As we discover it, perhaps we are not meant to remove or exploit whatever this priceless treasure is, but to keep it buried. The paradox of the kingdom, of tikkun olam, is that things hidden create a sense of possibility. Of wonder and exploration. Of healing and wholeness and heaven.
There are a thousand, thousand events and people that make up the universe. Each of them is a treasure hidden in a field. It is a joyful and communal process to participate in the repairing of this cosmos by finding things that have been buried and hiding things that have been revealed.