How to Succeed in Fixing the World or Anything Else

A gnawing question. The Canaanites were not good people. Their societies practiced serious abominations, including human sacrifice and orgiastic religious ceremonies. They were warlike and, simply, barbaric. Compared to the Israelites, Jacob and his family, they were simply evil. Jacob espoused humanity and dignity. When his sons committed acts of war against Shechem, he sternly rebuked them and the crime was not repeated.

So it is puzzling that these Canaanite nations gained Divine merit at the direct expense of the Israelites. It happened when Joseph, his brothers and an Egyptian honor guard came to Canaan in order to bury their patriarch, Jacob. The procession stopped at a place called Goren HaAtad, and there a tremendous mourning took place. According to the sages, the Canaanite kings had come out in a belligerent mood, intending to destroy the rerurnin Israelites,

But when they saw the intensity of the mourning, they hung their crowns above Jacob's coffin. They showed him respect. According to our sages, he was respected because the famine in Egypt ceased when Jacob arrived their, and resumed when he passed away. Thus, he became revered. When the Canaanites became aware of this, they, too, showed him respect and hung the crowns.

All is fine so far. The problem starts with the aftermath of this display of respect for the Tzaddik, the righteous one. The Canaanites were granted another long period of time in the soon-to-be Holy Land, while the Israelites went back to Egypt, eventually to suffer the worst of oppression and slavery. Is that fair? So they showed some respect, but they didn't change their basic ways! Why do they get a free pass at the expense of the far-more-moral Israelites?

In a sense, this was the question that lead the prophet Jonah to run away on a ship rather than preach to the gentiles of Nineveh. Jonah knew that the Assyrians of Nineveh would threaten his kingdom in the future, so he felt it would be better for Israel if they don't receive God's message of repentance and thus merit destruction. If it's us or them, better them, thought Jonah. After all, even if they repent (from the sin of lawlessness and theft), they will still not be nearly as righteous as Israel! They will still be idolaters.

God eventually forces Jonah to fulfill the mission, and Jonah succeeds in motivating all Ninevenians to repentance, thus saving them from God's threatened destruction. Jonah is now despondent, and he places himself on the ground outside the city. God will now teach him a lesson, and answer the gnawing question.

Overnight, God causes a beautiful tree to grow, giving Jonah shade. Just as Jonah enjoys it, a worm eats its roots and the tree instantly withers and dies. Jonah is even more despondent. He wants to die. Then God gives him the core message: You had mercy on this tree that came overnight and disappeared overnight. Shall I not have mercy on such a large city as Nineveh and all the humanity and animals therein?

In the words of the Radak, a Biblical commentator, Jonah was upset because his pleasure, in the shade of the tree, was taken away. God says to Jonah that His glory is present in ALL mankind, and thus if they sin and are destroyed, God's glory is diminished.

I believe that this is the core message of what God wants in the world. He wants perfection, to be sure, but is teaching us that the way to get there is through Tikun, through fixing. We do not fix that which is already fixed, but that which is broken. That being the case, Tikun is far more important than anything else. Fixing the Ninevenians, fixing the pagan Canaanites, takes precedence over the "already fixed" Israelites. Or, one could say, by fixing the Ninevenians and Canaanites, God is preparing the tools to further fix the Israelites. After all, Assyria will chastise Israel, and the Egyptian slavery will forge them into an even holier nation.

In either case, the emphasis is on fixing. Even a small fix, which may or may not last, carries great weight with God.

The lecturer I heard suggested that the route to achieving goals runs through focusing on all the potential blocks, obstacles and problems. If, instead of simply planning to reach my goal, I plan to surmount all of the obstacles to my success, I will end up with a far better plan.

My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, stressed the importance of educating mentally handicapped children. Why, society may ask, focus on that? They won't become great scholars. Maybe all the resources should be put into elite education!

Rav Ahron gave a resounding "no". We are a chain, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. By strengthening the weak link, the whole chain will hold better. The Haggadah urges us to engage the "Child who cannot ask," which Rav Ahron identifies as a child with disabilities. One famous Talmudic sage would teach such a student a simple lesson 400 times! It is that important, because God's glory is in ALL humanity. Therefore, by pursuing Tikun - Fixing, we enhance God's glory and move toward the universal goals of the messianic era far more effectively.