Repairing the World Together

What is the value of a human life?

Nothing like starting off with a big question! But this is truly the question at hand as we muddle our way through this extraordinary pandemic. Is any one life more important than another? How do we determine a life’s value? And most importantly, what is each of us, ourselves, willing to sacrifice to save a life?

In the Jewish tradition, there is a concept called “tikkun olam.” It means “to repair the world, to fix what has been broken.” It is a concept that touches on many of things we seek to do for our fellow human beings: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the grieving, clothing the naked, fighting for justice and freedom for all. I see it happening now, as we deal with this pandemic, in the way we approach the restrictions the disease has placed upon us.

If we were left to ourselves, I doubt any of us would choose to distance ourselves socially from friends and family. Left to your own devices, would you choose to stay home instead of going out in public, or wear a mask if you did need to go out? Would you tell your boss you’re going to work from home or your children’s teacher that you would be homeschooling? Would you wash your hands nearly as often as you currently do? We do all of these things not because we love doing them, but because they are necessary. We do them not only to protect ourselves but to protect others.

I asked at the beginning of this column how we measure a life’s value. The simple answer is we can’t, because it is immeasurable. If we value our own lives, then we must likewise value the lives of others with the same measure, because everyone is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, wife, husband, child and everyone is a beloved child of God. If I expect you to value my life, I must likewise value yours, and understand that no life is more important than another. This means that whatever we are willing to sacrifice for ourselves, we must also be willing to sacrifice for someone e

We are all tired. It is hard work to repair the world! But we must keep on. We must keep on because the value of human life is beyond our capacity to measure. It is beyond time, money, or inconvenience. It is beyond politics. It is beyond argument. This is how we practice tikkun olam. This is how we repair the world. May we see the fruit of that repairing speedily and in our days.