You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for dead tyrants’ murders, and you alone cannot stop living tyrants.
As Martin Buber saw it – writing at his best near the turn of the last century – the world of ordinary days “affords” us that precise association with God that redeems both us and our speck of the world. God entrusts and allots to everyone an area to redeem: this creased and feeble life, “the world in which you live, just as it is and not otherwise.” A farmer can unfetter souls and free divine sparks in “his beasts and his houses, his garden and his meadow, his tools and his food.” Here and now, presumably, an ordinary person would approach with a holy and compassionate intention the bank and the post office, the car pool, the God-help-us television, the retirement account, the car, the desk, phone, and keys. “Insofar as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness, in holiness performs the appointed ablutions, and in holiness reflects upon his business, through him the sparks which have fallen will be uplifted, and the worlds which have fallen will be delivered and renewed.”
“It is given to men to lift up the fallen and to free the imprisoned. Not merely to wait, not merely to look on! Man is able to work for the redemption of the world.”
This work is not yours to finish, Rabbi Tarfon said, but neither are you free to take no part in it.
– from chapter seven in For the Time Being by Annie Dillard