Moving on from Tikkun Olam — Tikkun Ha Lashon — The Global Language
Through the advancement of technology our world is much smaller. Its a oft-repeated line, but I mention it here because it seems to encourage messianic dreams of complete redemption. I read everywhere in the Jewish world across the spectrum of communities, about the coming redemption or tikkun olam (repairing the world). I am not certain they are wrong… maybe these groups are correct and its right around the corner. Maybe Judaism’s main ideas are all about a very happy, messianic future. Perhaps we should all live in that future now and project a confidence that we are on our way. Maybe all of the mitzvot can be summarized by ‘tikkun olam’
Maybe, but I’d like to suggest another path. I believe the Jewish community can move on from tikkun olam into a universal expression that is more concrete and applicable to the emerging global community.
In Sefer Beresheit, the Torah describes a gathering of the people of the world. They decide to build a tower to reflect their greatness and announce their grandeur to the Heavens. At the time, all humanity spoke one language and this unity brought them together. However, their language did not bind them to G-d. It didn’t connect them to their mission on earth, their purpose, and joy in serving the Creator. They simply built a monument to themselves. And rightfully so, G-d denied this monument, confused their languages, and separated humankind from each other. The tribes were formed and the strict barrier of language went up.
In my opinion, humanity as a collective and we as individual humans suffer from conventional language. We see the world through a system that we didn’t invent. From the time before we could think, we adopted this system, whether English, French, Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, etc., to our outlook, unconsciously. We maintain firm beliefs, judgments, memories, labels, and loyalties, which originated in a system we have been using since before we could think. We are divided into nations and remain in a full state of competition over cooperation. The situation seems to be further deteriorating in our day.
I notice this acutely when I speak different languages. I don’t know that many and I don’t speak fluently. However, in the moment of speaking another language, I do feel my mind or worldview shift. It is a fascinating experience. It makes me aware that English, my native tongue (with a Virginia accent, sped up by many years in NYC) is just a conventional system that might not be the way I actually want to think.
So, in which system of communication and language do I feel most comfortable? Its clearly music and more specifically improvisational music. I have been blessed to spend many years playing improvisational music. It has become a second language to me, a universal language that I can speak with any trained improvisor or beginner.
This is what I call ‘tikkun ha lashon’. Our human ability to speak is a gift from G-d. It gives us the avenue to create, cooperate, and build society. However, as I mentioned, it has serious limitations and to me, seems to be pushing us into a direction of war, confusion, miscommunication, and intense tribalism.
People speak about being a global citizen, but what is the global language? A brilliant Jewish, Polish optometrist, LL Zamenhof, created Esperanto, a truly universal language. It was popular for a while, but never really caught on. That is simply because people love their own tribe, and I have no issue with that. Yet, we are clearly failing to balance that love of a specific people, with love for all people. Particularism must be balanced with universalism.
That is the tikkun we need today. We must add a universal language to our everyday interaction with all humans. Our language informs our worldview and today, a universal outlook is more urgent than anytime before in human history. Our machine creations are now too powerful to be used on a limited, particularist outlook.
How does one practice tikkun ha lashon? I believe the fullest expression of language is our ability to use it as a tool and also leave it behind. I believe playing improvisational music is that freedom for a moment, a time to be liberate from language as an identifier, and remember its just a tool. Its not who we really are.
We truly are universal spiritual beings who serve one Creator. We can choose particular groups to affiliate with, but we must remember our one Source. By repairing language, we repair and restore our universal worldview, and thereby continue to balance cooperation and competition. But, maybe, we can give the edge to cooperation and harmony of humanity in the service of our one human family and one Creator.