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05/21/2021 12:14:24 PM


During any given week if I am exposed to the same idea in different contexts, I tend to take notice.  This week the message of tolerance came to me in three forms.  The first (not in order) came in the form of an email sent late last night from Marty Cobern from the Christian Science Monitor.  The article asked the question “Is any conflict unsolvable?”  The author of the article describes contact theory:

Contact theory is the idea that people from different groups will, under certain key conditions, tend to become less prejudiced towards one another after spending time together. And it is really the most studied, proven intervention for prejudice.

It’s also a delicate art. So it doesn’t mean we should just take people of different races or religions and put them in a summer camp together. That has been tried many times. Interaction with the other side is not enough. Just because we play basketball together does not just lead to more understanding all by itself. It’s ideal if people don’t just talk, but actually work together on some kind of common problem. It triggers our instincts for cooperation rather than competition. What problem are they going to solve together that they both care about? That creates a third identity outside of the conflict. And we know it’s a lot easier to create a new identity than to get rid of an old one.

The second lesson on tolerance came in the form a lecture I attended.  The lecture was on the 2020 Pew Institute study of the American Jewish community.  One of the most fascinating findings was on intermarriage.  Today many intermarried families identify as Jewish, either religiously or culturally.  A generation ago, an intermarried family would most likely have disassociated from Judaism all together.  The reason that was offered for this change during the lecture was that as a community we have become more welcoming to intermarried families.  Rather than a sign of shrinking Jewish identity, by being tolerant and open, we have grown the Jewish community and been made richer for it.  If you are interested in seeing the talk here is the link: It is the talk entitled “Judaism & Civil Society - Exclusive Look at Pew Report”.

The last lesson in tolerance came from a new podcast I am listening to called, “A Slight Change of Plans”.  In the episode I was listening to Dr. Maya Shankar interviewed Daryl Davis, a black jazz musician who one by one convinced hundreds of KKK members to leave the Klan.  Daryl Davis asked the question “how can you hate me if you do not know me?” and began to set up one-on-one meetings with members of the KKK (longer story, listen to the podcast).  Where some of us would ask the question as Dr. Shankar does, “how can you look past [the racism]?”, Daryl Davis responds, “It’s not like that.  I don’t want to look past it, I want to understand it.”  How much would our tolerance increase, what kind of better world would it be, if we approached situations not with judgment, but with curiosity?

Tolerance is hard.  It is right there in the word.  Tolerance is the ability to stand or withstand something difficult.  But if we stand in the uncomfortable, and learn to increase our capacity for tolerance, we will be made stronger for the experience.

We learn in Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 9, about the meaning of the word tolerate when Cain says, “My iniquity (over killing his brother) is too much to tolerate”.  The midrash explains tolerate as “meaning nourish and sustain”.

It goes on to explain the above verse in the following way, "and is my iniquity [so] heavy that you cannot tolerate it?" - meaning [please,] sustain it until I repent and repair [it]. If so, behold this is a great trait of tolerance - that God nourishes and sustains an evil creature, that the sinner created, until the sinner repents. A person [should] learn [from this] how much one needs to be tolerant, to carry the yoke of one's fellow and the evil that the fellow did to the person; to such a measure that even if that evil is still in existence - and the person tolerates [it] until the fellow repairs [it], or that it is nullified by itself, and so on.” 

May we merit tolerance in all of our encounters. May we learn as in the first lesson to create separate sacred space.  May we learn as in the second lesson to approach the other with love instead of fear.  May we learn as in the third lesson to be curious rather than judgmental.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tue, June 22 2021 12 Tammuz 5781