Earth Day and Tikkun Olam

14 April 2013

HANDS ON A GLOBE- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisApril 22 is Earth Day.  According to the website, "Earth Day broadens the base of support for environmental programs, rekindles public commitment and builds community activism around the world through a broad range of events and activities.  Earth Day is the largest civic event in the world, celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities.  More than a billion people participate in our campaigns every year."  1 

Sometimes people confuse Earth Day and the environmental movement with tikkun olam [תיקון עולם].  Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world" or "healing the world".  While it can potentially include environmental considerations, Judaism primarily teaches this concept as a shared responsibility to take social action and pursue social justice.

So... Earth Day... Tikkun Olam... social justice...

How should a believer understand these ideas and act on them?  What did Messiah say about these things?  Let's start at the beginning:


In the Beginning... Earth Day

G-d created the Earth (Genesis 1:1), created man (Genesis 2:7), planted a garden toward the east in Eden, and He placed the man there.  (Genesis 2:8)  Man's purpose was to cultivate the garden and keep it.  (Genesis 2:15)

Yeshua tells us the parable of the entrusted servants.  In this parable, we discover that possessions entrusted to servants should be cared for and nurtured to provide greater value to the owner.

When we acknowledge that world belongs to G-d (after all, He created it) and that we are His servants, we find that we have a responsibility to care for it and use it wisely.

Instead of an annual Earth Day, what if we celebrated a weekly Earth Day and took action to care for the world that G-d so graciously provided for us?  Each of us can take some action (large or small) to care for our world and honor its Creator.


Tikkun Olam... Social Justice

Messiah also gave us the parable of the vineyard.  When we study the agricultural imagery of this parable, we discover that Messiah is using vineyard and vine-grower to describe Israel and her leaders.  He makes it plain that humanity has a duty to serve G-d.

For starters, we should follow the greatest commandment: Love G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.  While at first this might seem very spiritual and nebulous, it really just comes down to our daily choices.

Second, we should love our neighbors as ourselves... but what does that look like?  James gives us a picture:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (James 1:27)


This responsibility to widows and orphans is clearly stated in the Torah (Deuteronomy 24:17-21): we should care for those who cannot care for themselves.  Even the unjust judge responded to the widow's persistent cries for help.

From the sin that caused the Fall of Adam and Eve to each circumstance that results in orphaned children and widowed women, the greatest impact in our world comes in the form of broken relationships.  Sin damaged humanity's relationship with G-d and continues to damage or destroy our relationships with one another.

We as individuals should not abdicate our personal responsibility to charitable organizations or (G-d forbid!) the government.  If we do, we miss the opportunity to fulfill part of our mission in life!  Instead we should directly participate in healing the broken hearted, the hungry, and the lonely.  Social justice is not achieved by small groups of people supported by the financial contributions of others but by each person contributing where they are and when they are needed.  While we should absolutely strive to provide for basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter, sometimes the greatest need is a kind word, a comforting touch, and a reminder that there is a G-d who loves them.  In doing this, we perform tikkun olam and heal the relationships between individuals... and between us and G-d.

This Earth Day, remember the responsibility humanity has to care for the world that G-d has given to us.  Think also about those in need and how to provide for them... physically, emotionally, and spiritually... and do something to help.


What does the Lord require of us but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our G-d?  (Micah 6:8)



Torah Portion




or view this week's triennial cycle reading.

Today is

Yom Sh'lishi, 28 Adar, 5783

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Learn more about this date in history.