Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “repair of the world”. However, Tikkun Olam is much more than simply repairing the world. It is a concept in Judaism that refers to a variety of actions that are done to improve (heal) the world.
The earliest use of the phrase tikkun olam was found in the Mishnah (Oral Bible), where it said, mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, which literally means “for the sake of repairing the world”. In essence, it means amending the law to keep society well-functioning.
Classical rabbinic Judaism teaches that Tikkun Olam referred to legal enactments that were meant to preserve social order. There is a very well-known prayer near the end of every religious service called Aleinu. In that prayer, Tikkun Olam refers to the purging of idolatry.
In Jewish mystical Kabbalah, the “repair” part is mystical and refers to returning the sparks of Divine light back to their source. This is done by ritual performance.
In modern times (1900s), tikkun olam has referred to pursuing social justice or establishing Godly qualities throughout the world based on the idea that Jews bear responsibility not only for their own personal welfare, but also for the welfare of society at large.
Generally, tikkun refers to anything that improves or repairs society or any faction of society. When a Jewish child is preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah and turning 13, they typically do a Mitzvah project. Often these projects involve some aspect of Tikkun Olam such as working in a food kitchen, donating to create a school in an underprivileged area, working at a Children’s Hospital to entertain the children, etc.
It’s important to note that OLAM means world. Thus, the modern interpretation of tikkun olam, is healing the world. There is nowhere in this statement that refers to Jews or Judaism. We must reach over borders and focus on healing the world – Jew or non-Jew. We are all on this planet together.