Today I thought a lot about the concept of “tolerance.” If there is a “yin” and “yang,” as it were, then — and I was quite amazed to realize this – – the opposing force to tolerance is “gaiva” – haughtiness, or egotistical pride. (Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l of mussar fame, discussed the interconnectedness of tolerance and humility.) Why is a person intolerant, and what is its root cause? Because when one is so sure one knows Truth, therefore, whatever is not true must be false. If Person B does not share the same concept of truth as Person A, then Person B must be “wrong.” And if Person A can see Truth and Person B cannot accept it, even after it’s been presented to Person B as true, then Person B is somehow a “lesser” person. The fact that Person A thinks of Person B in this way fosters haughtiness.
We are supposed to hate the sin, but not the sinner. But every person is created of many parts, and when we see a particular aspect of a person that we do not care for, we tend not to look deeper for positive attributes. Instead one consciously or subconsciously rejects or distances that person from oneself to some degree. It’s easy to castigate the sinas chinam (gross intolerance and baseless hatred) we’ve heard about in Israel recently, yet do we really have meaningful friendships with people who don’t share our hashkafos (philosophical or religious beliefs/outlook)?
This is not a rhetorical question. The usual response is that it is simply and practically difficult to relate to a person on a deeper level if their lifestyle is so very different from one’s own. My response is that if one truly embraces ahavas Yisrael, then it is not only possible to have a meaningful relationship with a person different from oneself, but one will find much to admire and learn from that person. I’m not saying it’s easy – – I am still far from attaining that ideal myself.
A person who may not keep a mitzva that is important to me (i.e. Shabbat, kashrus, etc) may be much more meticulous than myself about proper behavior in business, or caring for an elderly parent, being mentschlich in interpersonal relations, giving tzedaka, or volunteering for a challenging act of chesed. We may be surprised when we reach the World To Come to find that Judgement and the methodology for tallying positive and negative contributions may not be so obvious after all.