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January 12, 2018  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

What the world needs is respect and understanding, not merely tolerance

By RABBI JOSH HEARSHEN Congregation Rodeph Sholom

When children are in elementary school they are taught many basic ideas that will be fundamental to their lives as humans. One of the very important concepts that they are taught is the idea of “tolerance.”

This idea is that we need to “tolerate” differences and accept that they exist. This concept of tolerance is not limited to the playground. It is a basic part of society and something that we have taken to use as a common phrase. Now for the contrarian in me… I don’t care for tolerance. I think it is a broken phrase that means nothing at best and is quite negative at worst. As I see it, tolerance is the most basic and bare necessity while understanding and respect is the absolute goal that we must strive for and embrace. In this age of anger and rage, in this age of mass communication allowing for us to communicate more like we live in closets than in diverse communities … we feel trapped trying to pay lip service to diversity and instead we fall back on that kindergarten level of understanding of interacting with others that preaches tolerance and nothing greater.

Welcome to 2018. We live in an age today where people no longer want to engage in civil discourse or even want to have friends who are different than themselves. We live in an age where people block each other on Facebook because they cannot stand to read the other person’s point of view if it is at all different from their own. We live in an age where it isn’t us all together in the same game but us versus them at all times. All of these examples are varying degrees of different sides of the same coin. We have bought into a world of tolerance and not a world of diversity.

Why do I feel so strongly against the concept of tolerance? I tolerate cancer. I tolerate thieves. I tolerate anger. I tolerate all sorts of ugly, terrible things, because I accept that they exist in the world in which I exist. However … I do not tolerate Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews or Conservative Jews. I respect them. I do not tolerate homosexuals or lesbians or heterosexuals. I respect them. I do not tolerate Muslims, Christians or any other religion. I respect them. Respect and understanding is such a greater goal and more important value for our world today. I am not asking for civility; I am asking for humility and brotherhood. We need to recapture a world where Democrats are not evil nor are Republicans. We need to find our way back into a world where friends can have opposing viewpoints and yet remain friends.

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday every year this is the lesson of his life. He could have gone down a road of anger and hatred of white Americans. He could have advocated for black power and superiority but he didn’t. He chose to see the world through the eyes that God gave him – the eyes that mirror the way in which God sees the world. Our world is meant to be diverse and meant to be vast in its reach. It is taught in the Talmud: If a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake.

As we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday each year in January, the Jewish people are normally studying the enslavement and exodus epic from the Torah at that time each year. The two go hand in hand. God heard our crying and sent a prophet to free us from our enslavement. God recognized that humans have no right to assert superiority of each other and that humankind is all one and the same and yet different at the same time. God recognized all of this and the message is the same for us today.

We need to recognize that the exodus epic has not yet concluded as we have not all reached the “Promised Land.” We are not all free yet. As we move forward let us all embrace a world not of tolerance but of respect. Let us all embrace a worldview that King dreamed of and that God blessed us to share in. Let us all embrace people who are different and not see that as a dark mark but as a beacon of light to lead us and help us better understand ourselves.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association, which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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