Gathering Sparks: The Origin of Tikkun Olam

At the root of the contemporary Jewish experience is tikkun olam, the Hebrew tenet of repairing the world. In a universe that continues to increase in complexity, each human being is responsible for ensuring that human beings continue to coexist with one another and with the natural world. Seemingly small efforts such as smiling at a stranger on the street, mindfully remaining present for a suffering friend, and fostering genuine compassion for ourselves and others, are meaningful expressions of tikkun olam that fulfill this responsibility. More obvious actions, such as turning off the lights when leaving the house for the day, supporting local businesses, and remaining an active voice in social and political issues, are also essential.

The Mizel Museum’s new permanent exhibition, 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks, aims to engage visitors in an educational journey in Jewish history and culture. Through various interactive elements, it will also encourage visitors to take progressive local and global action. Contemporary local and global issues will be presented in the exhibition, and visitors will have the opportunity to actively engage with these issues both on-site at the museum, and off-site in their own homes, schools, and communities. Thus, visitors to the museum’s new permanent exhibition 4, 000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks, will learn about tikkun olam, repairing the world, by actively performing it.

The exhibition gets its title from the 16th Century creation myth, by the Jewish Kabbalist Isaac Luria (Ari) of Safed, which describes the origin of tikkun olam:

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, to make room for creation, he contracted himself by drawing in his breath, forming a dark mass. Then God said, “Let there be light” (Gen, 1:3) and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light. God sent forth the ten vessels like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. But the vessels—too fragile to contain such powerful divine light—broke open, scattering the holy sparks everywhere. Had these vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. Instead, God created people to seek out and gather the hidden sparks, wherever we can find them. Once this task is completed, the broken vessels will be restored and the world will be repaired.

4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks will illustrate the Jewish journey across time and space from a contemporary perspective, including topics such as the roots of Judaism, adaptability and resilience, diversity, creating community, cultural preservation, interfaith relations, and the role of the arts in social change. An essential goal of this exhibition is for each visitor, in examining the experience of the Jewish people, to think about and feel proud of his or her own personal journey, and to feel inspired by the fact that journeys don’t end but rather continue to unfold. In highlighting the idea of gathering sparks or repairing the world, while on that road trip, the exhibition will help visitors realize that each individual’s journey overlaps and interweaves with many others; so together, we must continue to gather sparks and accumulate light for ourselves and for one another.

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