Repairing the Non-Disposable World

This world is known as the “World of Rectification” (The Works of Kabbalah).

I wonder what the ancient Kabbalists would say about the modern world. Our everyday life certainly does not appear to be a “world of rectification.”

To rectify means to repair or correct an existing defect. This practice has become almost extinct. Years ago, things that went wrong were repaired; today, they are simply replaced. Replacing an item is cheaper than going to the trouble of having it repaired. When we add the vast numbers of disposable items that have become commonplace, we have a life-style where “rectifying,” at least of objects that we use are concerned, is a rather infrequent phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this attitude of replacing items rather than trying to repair them has extended itself from object relationships to people relationships. The most dramatic evidence is the unprecedented number of divorces. In the past, a couple that developed problems would try to repair the relationship. Most often, the attempt succeeded. Today, people do not want to waste time and effort; rather, they simply terminate the relationship and replace it with a new one. Human beings, much like styrofoam cups and contact lenses, have become “disposable.”

We would do well to make at least our interpersonal relationships comply with the Kabbalistic concept of “World of Rectification.”

Today I shall…

try to appreciate the unique character of an interpersonal relationship and make every effort to preserve it.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Nisan 18

Image: Hearst Newspapers

I know, I know. Kabbalah turns off a lot of people. Heck, even Talmud turns off a lot of people, generally Christians, and sometimes more specifically people who believe they can observe the mitzvot as written in the Torah without any interpretation by the Jewish sages.

Be that as it may (and setting aside any objections to Jewish mysticism for the moment), I think there’s an important lesson in the message above. Our modern western culture is one that values objects that are disposable rather than renewable or repairable.

We have disposable diapers, disposable cameras, disposable batteries, and so on. Consumer products are made with something called, “planned obsolescence,” that is, instead of making a car or a refrigerator that will last as long as possible and be repairable when broken, products are made to wear out within a certain span of months or years, and then the consumer has to buy a new one.

That gets expensive.

Heck, this has even approached the planetary level if you believe Stephen Hawking when he says the human race must colonize space to survive.

There are all kinds of people and groups, from Mars One (which some folks think is a fraud) to Elon Musk that are actively planning manned missions to the Red Planet with colonization as the ultimate goal.

I guess that means we get to burn out and use up the planet we currently live on. Just throw it away. Planets are disposable as long as we have other planets to colonize.

I seriously doubt we’ll get that far at least in my lifetime.

Mars One

Are people disposable?

Depends on who you ask. If you bring the abortion debate into the conversation, then pro-abortion folks believe that unborn children are disposable.

What about those of us who have already been born?

Rabbi Twerski, who I quoted above, mentioned that marriages are becoming more disposable all the time.

Yes, in some cases, I can see the need for a couple to divorce, in cases of infidelity or abuse, but I suspect, just like abortions, people become disposable simply because they become inconvenient. Problems are a nuisance to be avoided, not challenges to be overcome.

Again, I realize not all difficulties have a simple solution that preserves relationships, but too many people never even try.

There’s a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam which more or less translates as “Repair the World”.

The idea is that our world and everything (and everyone) in it are ultimately “fixable” rather than disposable.

Tikkun Olam can be applied to just about everything from environmentalism to marriage counseling. If something is valuable (and certainly our world is valuable), then we must become good stewards of what we have, taking care of it, maintaining it, protecting it, and when broken or damaged, repairing it.

Where to start?

How about with you?

cyborg repair
Emily Cyborg by Skidtography

I don’t mean “you” as a particular person such as “you have a problem,” but I mean “you” as in all of us, each individual. No one is perfect, and certainly some people are more “broken” than others. In order to be able to repair a broken world and the damaged people in it, we must first do that for ourselves?

What stops us from doing that?

Are you happy with who you are? Wish you could change, but don’t know how? Wondering how does one make real changes?

The formula is straightforward:

  1. Recognize that there is need for improvement.
  2. Make a decision to improve.
  3. Make a plan.
  4. Follow through on the plan.

What holds us back? We think we can’t change. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, the founder of Aish HaTorah, would ask his students, “If God would help you, could you do it?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” Then he’d ask, “Do you think the Almighty wants you to change, to improve?” The answer again is obviously “Yes”. So, why is it so difficult to change? It’s too painful. One doesn’t want to take the pain of change. Only through taking the pain and realizing that time is limited will we change.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly” for the Seventh Day of Passover

Well, that sounds like a showstopper. No one likes pain. Remember, we make disposable things (and people) because we don’t like to go through the effort of repairing and maintaining things (and people).

But how can you be “disposable” to yourself?

Gee, that’s a tough one.

On another one of my blogs, I wrote about Everyone’s Hard Battle, which in this case means, the battle of depression and suicidal ideation. Interestingly enough, I also quoted from Rabbi Twerski in that wee essay.

psych couchThat other blogspot is dedicated to promoting exercise for the older person, and at least for me, sometimes lifting weights is better than seeing a shrink.

Maybe that’s the answer. No, exercise as a means of stress release and discipline isn’t the answer for everyone, but finding something you’re passionate about is. Find something that drives you, something that’s hard but also irresistible. You might have to choose something you’re only lukewarm about and over time, make it a habit. That’s sort of how my workouts at the gym evolved.

For many religious Jews, it’s studying Torah. For some Christians, it’s studying the Bible. It’s examining the Word of the Almighty, not just by reading your Bible periodically, but by consulting knowledgable resources, praying, and actively meditating over what you are learning, integrating that process into your life and every possible manner.

Making drawing closer to God your passion.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to repair yourself and thus begin to repair the world. No one can tell you your passion, you have to find it (or make it) for yourself.

God created our world and the people in it, and through human disobedience to Him, we broke the world and the people in it. But God made sure the world and the people are “fixable”. Someday, He will send Messiah who is the “ultimate fixer,” the King who will repair our world, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave it all to him.

It is said in Judaism that each act of Tikkun Olam performed brings the coming of Messiah one step closer. That means we are active participants in not only bringing our Rav and our King back to our world, but active participants in our own “repair work”. We are partners with the Almighty in the most awesome and ambitious construction (or re-construction) project ever conceived.

approaching GodThe only thing slowing progress down to a crawl is us. If we see ourselves as helpless victims, we go nowhere. If we see ourselves as empowered by God, as partners with God working to improve ourselves and improve the world, then we should have the motivation to overcome inertia, realize our brokenness can be repaired, decide to do something about it, plan on how to do something about it, and then actually do something about it.

We don’t have to do it alone. The all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing unfailing, creative, One God is our partner. So let’s get to work.


4 thoughts on “Repairing the Non-Disposable World”

  1. While it is certainly true that the world which HaShem made is repairable, that it is an important basis for the notion of hope to know that repair is possible, and that it is a mitzvah to continue contributing to that process of repair and improvement, there is also to be considered the revelation that HaShem also has engaged in a bit of “planned obsolescence” — so that ultimately He will create a new heavens and a new earth — and that the Torah covenant is only promised to remain valid up until that point. Now, there is nothing to prevent HaShem from extending that covenant and that Torah in some form, because, after all, they were patterned after His own nature and principles which do not change — but we might hope that the next iteration of heavens and earth will not require continual repair; unless, of course, it will be necessary in order to keep us from getting bored or feeling useless.

    You mentioned that obsolescence can be expensive, because of the costs of replacing broken or deteriorated items, but I must point out that one of the reasons for designing a product to become obsolete and disposable is precisely because making it repairable increases the costs of producing it, the cost of its initial purchase, the cost of maintaining and distributing stocks of replaceable parts and repair equipment, the costs of training personnel to perform failure diagnosis and repairs (including the production of repair manuals), and the costs of actually performing repairs. As products become more complex, these costs increase exponentially and may far exceed the alternative costs of failed product collection and materials recycling. And when the technological environment in which these products must function is not stable and is in flux, recalling old products and replacing them with new ones is often the only means by which improved products with more advanced technology can be distributed. Consequently one must consider the value of a given product when deciding on the methods that ought to be employed in its reparability or its disposability.

    Disposable cameras may be beneficial (depending on the design of the available disposition system), but the notion of disposable people is more problematic. Biologically, people may be recyclable. But, aside from the eastern notion of reincarnation (which the apostolic writings deny in Heb.9:27), the souls that inhabit human bodies do not improve via recycling — rather, they improve by adjusting their thoughts and behavior to conform with HaShem’s guidance. They were not designed to be disposable, though some of them may choose not to allow themselves to be repaired when found to be defective. Considering the high value which HaShem places upon them, their loss will be a terrible waste, even more so because it is unnecessary; but it should indicate to us how highly the capability of choice is to be valued. Meanwhile, it is to be highly recommended that both human souls and various aspects of the world they inhabit should be considered worthy of the effort required to repair and improve them.

  2. As PL says, ‘rather, they improve by adjusting their thoughts and behavior to conform with HaShem’s guidance.”

    I have found that one must do more than change one’s choices, in that we do not always know what Abba wants us to change. There are many things I dislike about myself that are, in my eyes, high on my list for change, but when I ask Abba to change me, specifying the difficulties I see need fixing, I often find I was wrong about what should be changed…or in what order they should be changed, since some changes occur without any plan on my part, and with an ease that is startling.

    So I would offer a different recipe for change:

    Recognize that there is need for improvement.
    Confess to G-d what needs improving.
    Make a decision to improve.
    Ask for help to change.
    Make a plan that you will pursue regardless.
    Ask G-d to intervene, and change you into what He wants.
    Follow through on the plan, while waiting for G-d to move.
    Thank Abba for His help and intervention as you work your plan.

    It works for me…since I seem to always want the wrong things to change first. Often there are some things I don’t know need changing before I can even be able to change according to my will. Still, we must be proactive, and we must all be willing to take the first steps toward any goal, and then allow G-d to make of it what He wills.

  3. I think the preference of repair over disposal gives an important interpretive tool in understanding of the city of Jerusalem in modern day Israel. The heavenly Jerusalem repairs and transforms” not replace the earthly Jerusalem as the kingdom of God.

  4. and i believe it will be consummated in the second coming of the Messiah. So “to prepare the way of the Lord” should include supporting politically the right of Israel to possess Jerusalem and the land of Israel because it is the raw material the Messiah will use to establish His Messianic kingdom on earth.

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