In this Parsha, Judaism introduces one of its most path-breaking ideas in human history which also launches the People of Israel to sustainably be a light unto the nations with a special mission in humanity. “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: speak to the children of Israel … and they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.” (Exodus, 25, 1-2 and 8).
What does it mean that God will dwell in our midst and how does this idea prople the Jewish People to become a blessing for the families of the earth, as Abraham was commended in Breshit 12:3? Well, Judaism’s answer to these daunting questions emanate from the distinction between the quest for God and the quest for ‘godliness’, which is a concept I learnt from the great Edgar Bronfman z”l. The idea is that godliness – the dwelling of God among us – is not found in the heavens and in the quest for God and in His service, but in the daily interactions among human beings and their surroundings. In other words, ethics, morality and sanctity should be explored not just by looking up to the sky but by looking straight into the eyes of our parents, spouses, siblings, children, friends, community and society at large. That’s why Jewish law – primarily the Talmud – would become obsessed with the most minute details of human conduct: how and when to educate your children, to treat your parents, to do business, to grow a field, to separate holy from mundane, to take care of animals, to share your wealth or to make love. It is short-sighted to view these laws as religious obligations, because they are, in fact, observations about the workings of an ethical model society.
Consequently, as the quest God which dwells among them, for many centuries our people repeatedly offered light to and leadership in humanity through the qualities of our society, through our philosophical ideas, laws and justice system, the structures of our community and the qualities of our institutions. We were able to offer breakthrough ideas that eventually shaped human society e.g. Shabbat, human rights, labor laws, environmental protection or in trade and finances. In other words, our contribution to humanity has been qualitative.
This condition was transformed in the late 20th century. Since that time, due to the combined power and affluence of the Jewish People as a whole, around the world and in the State of Israel, our contribution to humanity could also become quantitative. In other words, our people with Israel at its core, has now been able to actually physically improve the lives of many millions of people around the world in areas of healthcare, food and water security or agriculture. In other words, for the first time we are able actually able to move the needle on global issues, through our ingenuity.
And many do take on this challenge. Inspired by Peter Diamandis moto that the world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities, many Israelis engage in life-transforming initiatives and go to scale with them. Through technology and its application, it is now common to meet a young Jew, in Israel or around the world, who say that they will change the world in their own unique way, and that their motivation comes from the most ancient ideal of Tikkun Olam.
My team and I are proud to be part of this inspiring movement coming out of Israel. Our project, called TOM, which stands for Tikkun Olam Makers, is inspired by a bold vision calling for the State of Israel and the Jewish People to help 250,000,000 people within a decade. We will do so by deploying the ingenuity of the start-up nation to solve the problems of people who are at the bottom of the pyramid of our societies: those struggling with disabilities, the elderly and others.
Our founding observation is highlights the gaps between abundance and scarcity that exist in every society. On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with challenges that have no affordable market or government solutions. Think about a man names Sefi who is quadriplegic and needs a robotic arm but cannot afford it because it costs $15,000 and is not covered by insurance. Or think about a woman by name of Kim who cannot control her hands but wants to independently be able to put on makeup. There are thousands of Neglected Problems like that faced by millions of people. On the other hand, there are countless people who are willing to volunteer their skills. They are engineers, programmers, product designers, occupational therapists, nurses or doctors. They may not dedicate their lives to solving Neglected Problems but are certainly willing to give a portion of their time and their skills to helping those in need. So on one side of our society there is acute need for talent, an ocean of dire need. On the other side of our society there is supply of talent, and ocean of talent. On one side of our society there is scarcity. On the other side of our society there is abundance.
Against this backdrop, the idea of TOM is simple: to create the platform that allows those who have the talent to work together with those who have the needs and to come up with specific solutions to those specific problems. A $700 robotic arm for Sefi or a 15$ device that allows Kim to put on makeup by moving her head without using her hands. The magic of TOM is that everybody pledges that all the intellectual property created by our Teams will be deposited in the public domain. This means that no body owns everything created by TOM but also that everybody owns everything we create by TOM. But our vision is to help 250,000,000? How are we going to do that? Our answer is that we will inspire and support a global movement of communities. In every place, a TOM Community can come together and create local solutions to local problems, but every such solution adds up to the global repository of solutions, and every community benefits from any solution created anywhere around the world.
This idea may sound crazy. But in just over three and a half years we have grown from one location in Israel to thirty places around the world in thirteen countries from Australia to Kazakhstan and from Canada to Argentina; we have worked on close to 400 prototypes of products many of which would cut costs by 80 to 95 percent; we were won a competition for the next big idea of the Jewish community in NY; and were recognized by Forbes as one of fifteen technology companies to watch in 2018, while being the only nonprofit social impact group on that list. Furthermore, through a fantastic coincidence, TOM may be a part of your community here in Aspen through our collaboration with Challenge American and with an amazing Israeli venture called Makers for Heroes, both working to address needs of wounded war vets.
The building of the Mishkan was a collaborative effort. In fact, it was the first collaborative effort of the people of Israel. God says to Moses: “”Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity.”
What does this idea of “every person whose heart inspires him” mean in the 21st century? Some of you may have heard of ‘crowd sourcing’. It’s a technology that allows many people who have never met to collaborate in raising money or doing amazing things. In the case of TOM we are crowd-sourcing problems, crowd-sourcing talent and solutions and will even crowd-source the manufacturing of products. This means that thousands and thousands of people will be part of a global TOM Movement that is powered from Israel and driven by Jewish communities around the world, hopefully brining godliness to their midst, their societies and the world.