The main character in the beginning of this week’ Torah portion is Pinchas, who meted out punishment of a licentious act. Concerning Pinchas, G-d said “Pinchas avenged My vengeance…”(ibid 25:11). According to the commentary of Rashi he did what G-d would have had to do. As a result, Pinchas was rewarded by having his stature raised.
Can we really do something that seems to be the function of the Almighty? The Talmud recounts an incident in which the Roman nobleman Turnus Rufus challenged Rabbi Akiva.
If G-d loves the poor, why doesn’t He supply them with their needs?
Rabbi Akiva replied,
In order to give us the opportunity to save ourselves from gehinom (hell).”
Due to the fact that there are poor people in the world, we have numerous mitzvah (tzedakah) opportunities, each of which will serve as a merit for us when we will have to account for how we lived our lives [on the day of judgment (i.e. when we die)]. Even though the job of supporting the poor is really G-d’s domain, He gives us the opportunity to do His job in order to give us reward for doing acts of kindness. G-d actually wants us to be His partners in this world and we get rewarded when doing so.
It’s similar to a father carrying clothes from the laundry room to one of the rooms in the house; he is accompanied by his four year old daughter. He does not need her help, but asks her to carry a pair of sox. Even though there is no discernible weight difference for the father as a result of his daughter’s help, he wants to give her the opportunity to help. He might even reward her and that too will give him much pleasure. We see that even though the father did not need the help, he uses his daughter’s help to give her an opportunity. The same is true with the G-d; we ‘help’ Him even though He obviously does not need our help.
The Almighty has set up the world in which we partner with Him to make it a better place. In this aspect, Judaism stands in distinction to some other religions, which believe that it is not in humanity’s domain to fix the world; that can come only from G-d or His messenger. In contrast, Jewish consciousness gives us the notion that G-d can and will send messengers but they are not charged with turning us away from sin. The most they can do is to encourage and inspire us to change our ways–but we must do it ourselves. The messenger will not clean up our mess but he or she can (1) show us there is a mess and (2) instruct us how to straighten it out.
The buzzword for so many Jewish organizations is “Tikun Olam,” fixing the world. However, some of them forget that this is a G-d given concept and that the world we are to fix belongs to Him. We cannot fix His world if we do not bring Him into the equation. The way we do that is by doing mitzvot. Tzedakah and social justice are crucial in this endeavor but so are tefillin and Shabbos. Any time we do a mitzvah we help to make the world a better place because each mitzvah serves as a testament that to G-d of the reality that this world is not a meaningless amalgamation of molecules that happened to be thrust in my life. Being Jewish should denote to others what we stand for and that we are proud of it. Each mitzvah we do ingrains this notion in us and helps us to be proud Jews who want to partner with G-d to make this world into a better place. Tikun Olam is not just a concept or feel good slogan; it is a way of life.
What mitzvah will you do today? The possibilities are limitless.