The Weekly Sedra – Va’eira – Unholy Tolerance

Rabbi Yossi Kahanov Shliach to Jacksonville, FL

Once, when Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was traveling in search of a new community in which to relocate with his Chassidim, he and his followers arrived at a particular village. Among others, this town seemed to holdout potential as a possible home for his growing Chassidic sect. But, as it turned out, the townsfolk had other ideas.

In a not-so-subtle display of emotions, the locals gathered to greet their prospective new neighbors with a generous pelting of raw eggs. Upon witnessing this, the tzaddik turned to his entourage and said: “Ah! This is where we shall stay.”

In response to their dumbfound reaction, he added, “At least the people here cannot be accused of being apathetic. They possess true enthusiasm for their cause. . . I find this rather appealing.”

Anger and intolerance seem to have lost its place in modern day life. Such emotions are considered taboo and entirely unacceptable in any shape or form. In fact many a brilliant career has gone down the tubes – instantly shattered – in a moment of unmitigated heartfelt indignation.

People who suffer from the need to express such raw and archaic emotions are regarded as flawed and relegated to rehabilitation programs. There are anger management classes for the anger challenged, and sensitivity training for people who are tolerance impaired.

Our societal “anger phobia” is best expressed in a Yiddish axiom: “Let the blood pour, but be sure to speak diplomatically.” An adage closer to home declares: “Don’t get angry; get even.”

Our extreme cultural intolerance for any expression of social indignation is not only a denial of our true human dimension and psyche, but has furthermore led to gangrenous human apathy and passivism.
New lows have been set in our society’s standards of personal accountability. Our legal system, for example, has become replete with the most absurd rationalizations in defense of inexplicable criminal behavior.

Psychoanalysis is another component in the war against human responsibility and justice. It is too often used as a means of defending all types of detrimental, immoral and inhuman conduct and trends.

Notwithstanding the fact that on the surface such tolerance may seem like an expression of kindness on the part of civilization, in reality it is the result of misguidedness and delusion.

What often lies behind this so-called compassion might very well be the extreme opposite. It is entirely possible that beneath the altruistic facade of “Live and let live,” lurks a selfish desire for social promiscuity and permissiveness; an environment in which the advocator himself is allowed to live recklessly, without accountability or shame.

It is only a person who himself does not wish to tow the line of morality and order, that would rationalize and defend injustice and immorality.

The greatest affront to man’s essential being, is the denial of his aptitude for full responsibility of his actions. In reference to the laws of torts and damages, the Talmud maintains that the human is always liable, even for damages caused while asleep.

Human conscience and intelligence, is what distinguishes man from beast. These unique qualities bestow man with the ability to know right from wrong and to act accordingly. To disavow man’s intrinsic capacity for undiminished behavioral responsibility is to degrade him. It is to effectively strip him from his unique human dimension.

This convoluted form of “tolerance” is clearly a major factor in the current breakdown of civilization and the ensuing madness and suffering.

In this week’s Parsha, when G-d promised to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, He declares: “And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (Exodus 6:6). Some commentators point out that the Hebrew word for “burdens,” sivlos, can alternatively be translated as “forbearance.” The verse would then read, “And I will take you out from the ‘tolerance’ of Egypt.”

Years of slavery and drudgery had left the Israelites oppressed and hopeless. They had sunk into a terrible tolerance, perceiving their situation as acceptable.

They had learned to grin and bear the exile and darkness. They had come to terms with a life devoid of spiritual fulfillment and human dignity – unable even to think about the transcendent qualities of higher existence.

Before the Children of Israel could be freed from Pharaoh, G-d had to first free them of their own inner bondage and slave mentality, which is the more serious and cruel trap of enslavement.

Thus G-d’s first and foremost promise was that He would take them out of this soporific state and revive their spirit with freedom so that they would no longer be able to tolerate the darkness and evil.

This had to be the first stage of their redemption, for otherwise they would forever remain slaves, albeit without masters. The second stage could now follow. The Almighty would then break the chains and raise the Jewish people up to unimagined heights.

In our present exile we are, thank Heaven, no longer physically enslaved, but our spiritual senses have been dulled – we have become immune to the pain of exile. We lack, to a large extent, the desire to break free.

We are content not to “rock the boat.” As long as we enjoy the comforts offered by contemporary society, we do not feel deprived of our true spiritual potential. It is a deprivation to which we have been immunized by the long and dark exile.

We need to realize that, no matter how comfortable we are, the world we live in is far from G-d’s ultimate dream house and purpose for creation. Strife and hatred, ignorance and bigotry still run ramped. We must look beyond what we have in our own comfortable little niches and see what is missing.

Yes, patience and tolerance are virtues, but we have become too tolerant of intolerable situations. Before G-d can take us out of our modern “Egypt,” we need to banish the slave mentality from our own headspace.

In order to become truly free we must first remove the shackles of our modern servitude from our own mentality. We must stop being so patient and accepting of all the evil and madness in the world.

The cultural notion that it’s not acceptable to be incensed by evil and G-dlessness, or to even define evil and unholyness, has got to be shattered.

We can become masters of our own destiny if we want to. But we first must realize that, yes, there are some things worth getting mad about – that getting mad over depravity and evil is as G-dly and virtuous as the love and admiration of goodness and righteousness.

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  • 1. Viewer wrote:

    Excellent piece. Is Rabbi Kahanov from Ohelei Torah? The English is superb – there’s only one mistake in word usage, and the structure, content, and vocabulary is incredible. The message is absolutely fascinating.

    It’s so true that we’ve come to accept even the wrongs as right in our worship of “tolerance” as the ultimate decider of morality. Things that are not okay become okay with an attitude of, “That’s how I am. It’s my nature. I couldn’t help it.” And we agree, priding ourselves that we have promoted the great “Tolerance” god.

    And then we wonder why everyone’s so confused, things seem to be no longer black and white; right and wrong have become so blurred.

    Well said.

  • 2. S. Neubort wrote:

    Well written and well reasoned!

    In the sentence beginning, “Among others, this town seemed to holdout potential,” the word “holdout” should be divided into two words, “hold out.” The word “holdout” is generally used to mean “delay,” or “declining to partcipate,” and not “offer.”


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