The Words of the Wilson Family

Tikkun Olam in Jerusalem: Uniting the Abrahamic Faiths

Andrew Wilson
December 30, 2003

Isaac Luria, the renowned sixteenth century Kabbalist, first used the phrase tikkun olam, usually translated as "repairing the world," to explain humanity’s role in the evolution of the cosmos and the preparation for the Messianic Age. In his teaching, God created the world by forming vessels of light to hold the Divine Light. But as God poured the Light into the vessels, they catastrophically shattered, tumbling down toward the realm of matter. Thus our world consists of countless shards of the original vessels entrapping sparks of the Divine Light. Humanity’s great task involves helping God by freeing and reuniting the scattered Light, "raising the sparks" back to Divinity and restoring the broken world.

Tikkun olam encompasses both the outer and the inner, both service to society by helping those in need and service to God by liberating the spark within. Acts of charity honor the conscience and the Divinity within every person, even as they help them cope with life’s mundane difficulties. Both through serving others and by receiving loving service, souls are transformed and elevated.

Today there are numerous American synagogues pursuing tikkun olam as a Jewish equivalent of the Christian social gospel: feeding the hungry, helping battered women, improving community relations, campaigning for civil rights and workers’ rights, etc. Yet as the name implies, tikkun olam is bigger than simply giving charity or engaging in social action. It places human spiritual practice in the context of the unfolding history of the world—the restoration of wholeness to the cosmos that had been broken in ages past. The meaning of tikkun olam is to restore and perfect this imperfect world. It is about helping God realize the completion of the Divine Will. Its consummation will be the Messianic Age, when the Divine Light shines forth everywhere and in everyone.

Jerusalem is a place imbued with the history of God. It is the holy city of the three Abrahamic faiths: where David and Solomon ruled Israel, where Jesus walked during his final days on earth, and where Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven to meet God. Yet at the same time, it is one of the most conflicted places on earth, the epicenter of the Middle East conflict between Jews and Muslims that is itself the source of most of the world’s conflicts, wars and terrorism. It is the city most dear to God’s heart, yet causes God the most pain. We can conceive of few places on earth more in need of tikkun olam, and few places on earth where human efforts at tikkun olam could more dramatically affect the evolution of the cosmos.

The supreme tikkun olam in Jerusalem is about bringing peace to the Holy City. This necessarily takes the form of reconciling the family of Abraham—the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Politicians have worked for peace for more than 50 years, to no avail. They have ignored the truth that without reconciliation among the religions, lasting peace is impossible. The truth of tikkun olam is that no mere military ceasefire or political solution can heal the breach between these three communities. Rather, they must come together on an internal level to "raise the holy sparks" as the basis for healing the many political problems between them.

This was the purpose of the interfaith peace march and rally in Jerusalem on December 22, 2003, which began with prayers at the al-Aqsa’ Mosque and the Western Wall, and ended with a significant ceremony to honor the founders of the Abrahamic faiths. In that ceremony, two Jews presented a crown to Jesus, Christian ministers placed a robe on Muhammad, and Muslim leaders presented a Hanukkah menorah to Moses. By representatives of each religion honoring the founder of its enemy, the ceremony symbolically united the religions of Abraham. The holy sparks raised in this ceremony may have a profound effect on efforts to bring peace.

Repairing the Fractured Family of Abraham

Judaism, Christianity and Islam were each born in the fires of conflict and rejection by the other. The historical rivalries present at their founding have congealed as permanent religious enmity, casting believers in the rival religions as faithless infidels. Even though their scriptures have numerous teachings in common, beginning with faith in the same God and extending to agreement on most ethical matters, the fact remains that each religion continues to deny and disparage the others’ most treasured objects of faith—the founders Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and the specific revelations about them. Their traditional narratives recount stories of conflict and rejection, and these continue to shape believers’ worldviews and attitudes to this day.

At interfaith dialogues, Christians and Jews sit together like two families at their children’s wedding. Both sides want to get along with their new in-laws, so they make pleasantries and stay on their best behavior. Yet underneath are thoughts left unspoken, of dirty linen and unpleasant memories. They can agree to work together on the social level, yet are reluctant to discuss the deeper matters of theology, lest it cause offense and break the polite atmosphere.

Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Yet the problem is that each is perversely unwilling to recognize the fullness of God’s presence in the other religions. This means, according to the paradigm of Lurianic Kabbalah, that each religious establishment encases its spark of Divine Light within a "husk" of intolerance, dogmatism and triumphalism. A tikkun olam, imaginatively designed and properly performed, is needed to raise the sparks and repair the fractures between the religions of Abraham’s family.

Yet it seems that the closer one approaches a religion’s Divine Light, the more entangled one gets in the particularity of its revelation that runs counter to the other religions. For Christians, the Divine Light is nowhere more present than in Jesus Christ, whom Jews cannot accept. For Muslims the Divine Light is present in the teachings of Muhammad, whose prophethood is rarely recognized by Christians or Jews. Jews venerate the rabbis who wrote the Mishnah and established the canons of halakha, yet these are the very Pharisees whom the New Testament condemns as hypocrites and whose halakha it spurns.

Nevertheless, casting aside our fears and mental reservations, let us dare to affirm the Divine Light in each other’s religions. Let there be a mutual affirmation of the Divine Light embodied in the holy lives of the rabbis, the Divine Light incarnate in Jesus who believed with divine certainty that he was the Messiah, and the Divine Light of truth glimpsed by the prophet Muhammad. By coming together at these centers of religious mystery, let us raise the holy sparks. We can thereby repair the ancient conflicts that set our religions on a collision course. This was the purpose of the ceremony of December 22: thoroughgoing tikkun olam.

Interfaith initiatives that deal with ethics and values but avoid the messy task of finding common ground around the core revelation are at best only half-measures. They are ineffective for raising the holy sparks. The ceremony in Jerusalem went deeper. As we build upon it to deepen the unity of the Abrahamic faiths, let me suggest four guiding principles.

First, honoring the Divine Light of each religion requires each to take seriously the highest revelations and aspirations of the other. For example, a core aspiration of Judaism is an end to the Diaspora and the return to the Land of Israel; this is God’s promise revealed by all the prophets of the Tanakh. Can Muslims have the humility and charity to honor that Jewish hope and yield on the question of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Israel? On the other hand, a core belief of Christians is that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel. Is there any way for Jews to honor God’s revelation to Christians and regard Jesus as a "prince of peace," even though the Jewish experience of Jesus’ followers has been anything but peaceful? Can Christians, for their part, recognize in the Jews people of faith who cannot help but regard Christian attempts at conversion as invitations to apostasy and faithlessness to God’s revelation at Sinai? Can they go beyond their singular focus on Jesus to also recognize the prophethood of Muhammad, and learn from his teachings, some of which may be illuminating in areas where Christian doctrine is lacking? Tikkun olam challenges each religion to cope with the disparate revelations and aspirations of the other, which are the forms of the Divine Light as found in each faith.

Second, tikkun olam among the religions is incompatible with proselytizing. To convert to another religion would mean denying the Divine Light in one’s own. Hence, conversion, while seeming to transcend the barriers between religions, actually perpetuates in the dynamic of rejection and intolerance. Tikkun honors the Divine Light everywhere it appears; rejecting the familiar Light for the allurement of a more distant light does not fulfill it. This was the error of Shabbatai Zvi, who converted to Islam and then justified it as a tikkun uniting Islam and Judaism. It was not tikkun, only a transfer of allegiance. It perpetuated the oppressive power structures (Turkish rule) that placed Judaism at a disadvantage.

Third, believers of each religion can only be responsible for the tikkun of their own religion. No one can properly demand change of the other, but can only change what is in themselves. As Hillel stated, "If I am not for myself, who is for me?" (Pirke Avot 1.14) The Qur’an reads, "There is no coercion in religion," (2.257) and the New Testament teaches that love "does not insist on its own way." (1 Cor. 13:5) Therefore, when addressing conflicts among religions, one can only go so far in pointing out the mistakes of one’s counterparts. Sharing with honesty and kindness can convey information, but it cannot make demands. The actual reconciliation must arise from the heart, as love from members of one religion to another.

Fourth, in the act of honoring the revelations of the other faiths, believers cannot and should not be untrue to the core message of their own revelation. For example, no Jew should be asked to affirm the Christian teaching that Jesus is God, for that would deny the essential monotheism of the Mosaic revelation. How then can any affirmation of the other be possible, given the welter of doctrinal disputes between Judaism, Christianity and Islam? God is not a God of contradiction; therefore at the deepest level of the holy sparks, God’s revelations must be consistent across the religions. Part of the process of tikkun olam is to recognize the common truth in each other’s faiths—the holy sparks—while separating out the inessential doctrines—the husks. Yet finding the core of God’s revelation is not a simple matter.

Indeed, given the tangled history of their relationships, one can hardly expect adherents of any one of the three traditions to hold an unbiased view as to what is essential for the affirmation of all in common. Fortunately, the master of this tikkun olam, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, has been given divine insight into the tangled knots of history and clear instructions about how to untie them. Under his guidance, the reconciliation of the Abrahamic faiths within the parameters of the above four principles could be consummated in Jerusalem.

The Tikkun of Removing the Cross

Before such a common affirmation and reconciliation could take place, some preparatory efforts were required, as each religion had to look within itself to see where its teachings and attitudes have caused offense by diminishing a brother religion. Such teachings would certainly be obstacles to any wide-ranging interfaith tikkun olam. The Christian "teaching of contempt" against the Jews, which has led to its history of anti-Semitism, certainly belongs in this category.

Thus, when Pope John Paul II came to Jerusalem, prayed at the Western Wall, and publicly renounced many traditional anti-Semitic teachings of the Roman Catholic faith, he enacted an historic tikkun olam to repair the fractured history of Jewish-Christian relations from the side of Christianity. These Christian expressions of repentance for anti-Semitism in word and deed are always heartening to Jews, who must live with the wounds of that hatred of many generations.

However, when we dig deeper, we find the root cause of Christian anti-Semitism in its teaching about the crucifixion of Jesus. In this regard, the Catholic writer James Carroll’s best-selling text, Constantine's Sword offers a serious critique of the Christian doctrine of the cross. He follows the pioneering work of feminist theologian Rosemary Reuther, who declared in her book Faith and Fratricide, "Anti-Semitism is the left hand of Christology." Their critiques:

The cross casts a shadow of anti-Semitism. As a reminder of the story of Jesus’ unjust death, it points the finger of condemnation at his killers, specifically the Jews among them—and thence generalized to all Jews.

The cross makes permanent the conflict out of which Christianity began, when the church stood against normative Judaism. It sets up a judgment—one is either standing with Christians who are ransomed by the blood of the cross or standing with the Jews and Romans who mocked Jesus on the cross.

The cross signifies Christian hegemony. First established by Constantine as a symbol of Christ triumphant over the pagans, it would be emblazoned on the shields of the Crusaders and conquistadors as a hated symbol of conquest.

Christian soteriology need not be dependent on the cross. The resurrection can be seen as the locus of redemption. Jesus’ life can be seen as redemptive in itself.

While it is glorious to bask in the redemption of the cross, it is quite another thing for those who are condemned in its shadow. By emphasizing the act of rejecting and crucifying Jesus Christ, the cross set up a high wall between those who accept Jesus and those who do not.

Jesus’ life, on the other hand, displayed God's saving and reconciling love. He was even willing to lay down his life for those who didn't accept him, because he recognized that they were ignorant of who he was or what God called him to accomplish. On the way to his execution, he lamented, "Would that you knew the things that make for peace, but they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42) Jesus’ heart was never far from his own people, Israel. In this light, he has surely been pained to see the walls of religious intolerance erected at his death—especially against the Jews, his own flesh and blood.

In this regard, a remarkable act of tikkun olam occurred on May 18, 2003, when more than 120 Christian clergy came to Jerusalem to bury the cross. As guided by Dr. Moon, these clergy had understood the problematic nature of the cross for interfaith relations, and in the spirit of peacemaking they had removed the crosses from their churches. In Jerusalem they approached their Jewish counterparts in the spirit of repentance for past sins against the Jewish people. The Jews in attendance reciprocated by expressing regret for the role that certain of their leaders played in the crucifixion of Jesus 2,000 years ago. This event cleared away a key obstacle that has long obscured the path to reconciliation between Jews and Christians.

The Cross as an Obstacle to Reconciliation

The New Testament records that Jesus went about preaching the Kingdom of God. Dr. Moon’s understanding is that God commissioned Jesus with the messianic task: to build God's kingdom on earth. He was to gain the support of Israel and be proclaimed as Israel’s Messiah, and on that foundation move to unify the surrounding peoples and subjugate even Rome. Clearly, Jesus could not accomplish this messianic task by dying on the cross after a public ministry of only three short years. The New Testament’s declaration that the cross was pre-ordained by God only barely disguises the great disappointment felt by Jesus and his followers. The cross was a horrible outcome; it frustrated Jesus’ hope and God’s hope to establish the kingdom of God in his day. It frustrated Israel’s longing to meet the Messiah. It also set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the estrangement of Christianity from Judaism.

The crucifixion of Jesus was an event that decided the direction of history. It set events in motion that would shatter the unity of God’s people. Instead of one Israel, there would be two, vying for the legacy of the same Bible. Later, Islam would arise as a third people of God. Had there been no crucifixion and Jesus had lived to establish God’s kingdom in the Middle East, there would have been no need for Islam to develop as a separate religion either.

Looked at from this viewpoint, the crucifixion was another "shattering of the vessels," second only to the breakdown in primordial times. God was pouring Divine Light of messianic intensity into Jesus, into his disciples and into the people of Israel. But the Light was not received, and hence Jesus, his disciples, and Israel separated. Unable to hold the fullness of the Light, Jesus’ disciples could not follow Jesus’ teaching to love and forgive; instead they began to accuse the Jews. Israel could not see the Light by its dim reflection in Christians. New doctrines about Jesus, brought in from Hellenism, made Jesus and Christianity virtually unrecognizable to Judaism.

On that score, the Christian act of taking down the cross was of great felicity for Jews who sought a way to approach Jesus the Jew. Normative Christianity had obscured the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus as a Jewish teacher in life by doctrines that center on the significance of his death. Consider how many of the Christian doctrines most alien to Judaism—vicarious atonement, death as an act of redemption, the divinity of Christ—are rooted in the cross. With the removal of the cross, the way opened for Jews to appreciate Rabbi Jesus, even Jesus as a type of Jewish Messiah, without having to reckon with Pauline and later teachings that lack any foundation in Judaism. In other words, it opened the way for Jews to honor Jesus and still remain Jews.

The Christians and Jews gathered in Jerusalem on May 18, 2003 were repairing the Jewish-Christian relationship at a fundamental level by seeking a fellowship beyond the cross. Repenting and embracing each other, they quieted its accusation and overcame its alienation. Moreover, by removing the cross as an obstacle to mutual understanding about Jesus, they were laying the foundation for a greater tikkun olam that would take place the following December.

The Tikkun Olam in Jerusalem and Its Fruits

On December 22, 2003, at a rally of some 30,000 people in Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims participated in a ceremony crowning Jesus as the King of Peace. They honored the prophethood of Muhammad with a robe, and offered a Hanukkah menorah out of respect for Moses and the aspirations of the Jewish people. Members of each religion honored the highest aspiration of the others. Each affirmed God’s revelation to the others. Together these Jews, Christians and Muslims affirmed the unity of God, who founded each of the Abrahamic religions under His purpose and who therefore intends that their founders and revelations be respected by all.

The chutzpah of this ceremony, which cut across preconceptions and ingrained prejudices, was challenging to everyone present. The people of each religion had to swallow their pride in order to give honor to the revelations of their erstwhile rivals. Yet the participants demonstrated true sincerity, humility and purity as they offered their devotions to God’s historical revelations, thereby raising countless holy sparks to heaven. The overall impression was one of profound joy and holiness.

Consider what these actions by humble and committed believers may mean as tikkun olam—

a. For Moses and Israel: Two imams symbolically presented a Hanukkah menorah to Moses, and subsequently lit the menorah, as it was the fourth night of Hanukkah. Traditionally, Muslims have always honored Moses as a prophet. But have they honored Moses’ desire to dwell with his people in the Promised Land, a hope kept alive by all generations of Jews to this day? Hanukkah is the festival marking Jewish independence and the Jews’ right to a nation of their own, as first embodied in the state established by the Maccabees 2100 years ago. Yet the independence of Israel is the thing that Muslims have been most reluctant to accept. Here was an expression of Islam’s love for the Jewish people and an affirmation by Muslims of Israel’s nationhood. It is a tikkun of acceptance and respect that can serve as a foundation for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Considering the current perilous condition of the State of Israel, beset by enemies and its own fears, some Jews have doubts about whether it represents the complete fulfillment of the ingathering prophesied in scripture. Perhaps a key to the fulfillment of the ingathering lies in the support and participation of non-Jews, as Isaiah wrote, "The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls." (Isa 60:10) This tikkun presages the day when Muslim support will guarantee the peace and well being of Israel.

b. For Muhammad and Christian-Muslim relations: The robe is a traditional garment of the prophet. (1 Sam 15:27, 1 Kgs 19:19) When two Christian clergymen symbolically placed a robe on Muhammad, they were performing a tikkun to accept him as a great prophet of God. This reverses hundreds of years of prejudice, when Christians disavowed Muhammad and warred against his followers.

Many traditional Christians in the past viewed Muhammad as a false prophet, even though Islam has always honored Jesus. As the Christian west spurned Muhammad and Islam, his followers came to have feelings of oppression; this incited them with zeal to pursue jihad against the Christian "infidels." With this act of tikkun the traditional enmity of Christians towards Muhammad was overcome, and henceforth the two religions can relate more naturally as brothers. This will encourage Muslims to open their hearts to co-existence with the West, of which they regard the State of Israel as an outpost.

c. For Jesus and Jewish-Christian relations: When Jewish representatives symbolically presented a crown to Jesus, they honored the Christian belief that Jesus came as the Messiah and King of Israel. They honored Jesus while remaining Jews. This courageous and selfless act was a step from the Jewish side towards reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity, healing an issue of great pain that has separated the two faiths.

Here was the Jewish response to the reconciliation initiated by the Christian clergy who buried the cross in Jerusalem that past May. By removing the cross, the clergy were declaring that Christianity should center on the living Jesus of the gospels, a Jewish teacher whose message was peace, love and forgiveness. By repenting for past anti-Semitism, they declared that Christianity should be a religion that loves the Jews as Jesus did, not one that oppresses them.

Recall that Christians have traditionally blamed the Jews for the disbelief that led Jesus to his death. Rightly or wrongly, they perceived the Jews’ unwillingness to honor Jesus as a continuation of this offense, thereby providing justification for their continual contempt. The act of crowning Jesus as king liberated the Jewish people from this historical tyranny. Now Christians can begin to reciprocate by humbling themselves before Jews and learning from them the roots of their faith. Both sides were thus liberated to be free in their relations with one another.

Just as importantly, this tikkun olam opened the door to a new relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the Jewish people. Until now, the meaning of Jesus’ messianic identity was supplied by Christianity, emptied of Jewish content and hidden under the sign of the cross. How could Jews recognize the purpose of his coming? The great Maimonides recognized that his efforts to enlighten the Gentile peoples with the knowledge of God furthered the work of redemption and brought closer the messianic age. Others have sought to make sense of Jesus as one of several "Messiahs of Ephraim" whose efforts were destined to fall short of full redemption. Yet few Jews have dared consider that Jesus, who was of the lineage of David, came as the King Messiah to establish the kingdom of God. After all, he never became a king, but died on the cross.

By offering a crown to Jesus—who died without becoming king of Israel, who left this world with his purpose unfinished, his life work unaccomplished—this ceremony healed Jesus’ painful heart. It was proper that Jewish representatives performed this act of tikkun, as a kindness to Jesus the Jew. Christians, who could only know an image of Jesus that was constructed after his death, are not in a position to do it. Although they have been honoring Jesus as their spiritual king for 2,000 years, they cannot thereby restore what was unaccomplished during his earthly life. No one but a Jew can restore it, as it concerns Jesus’ earthly ministry for the sake of Israel, to establish God’s kingdom there.

In so many ways, what was accomplished in Jerusalem on December 22, 2003 will go down in history as a symbolic event of great significance in the process of repairing relations among the children of Abraham. Pieces of God's broken heart were knit back together on this day. The holy sparks that were raised from all three religions mingled in the heavens, multiplying their effulgence and illuminating Jerusalem with a new light. We cannot fathom what results may ensue. Certainly it bodes well for peace in Israel, and the world.

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