Tolerance means learning to carry weights

In last night’s spiritual growth group we read the section in the book Alei Shur on having tolerance as a community leader. There are many kinds of leaders. Teachers, rabbis and community secretaries are all different kinds of leaders.

He brought the example of how tolerance in teachers and school administrators requires the same acceptance of what you don’t like as tolerance requires generally. He didn’t mince words. It’s worth quoting the book exactly. “A student is ‘accepted’ to a school. The implication is that he is tested to determine his eligibility. [In contrast], the true educator accepts the student upon himself, accepting to carry him in all of his conditions, together with all of his problems and weaknesses and crises as well as all of the misdemeanors he’s liable to commit. How piteous is the approach taken by educational institutions who so easily deliver a verdict of expulsion from the institution and don’t take into consideration that in the majority of cases the expulsion of this kind of student is literally like a death sentence, because he is likely to go downhill. They ought to be reminded of the saying of the sage Rabbi Yitzchak Peterberger, that there is a Shulchan Aruch (Jewish book of law) even for a thief, and we’re prohibited from obligating him to more than the Shulchan Aruch determines. Similarly, not every misdemeanor, even a serious one, is deserving of expulsion! An educator, like any community leader, has to be compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and abundant in loving kindness, carrying intentional, rebellious and unintentional sin…” (By listing the divine attributes of mercy the author is noting that “carrying” the sin is one of the attributes of God by which we are supposed to reflect God and bring these attributes of mercy into the world.)

The author highlighted the words “upon himself” and “carry him.” We’ve been using the English word “tolerance” for the Hebrew savlanut. In everyday conversation when we speak about tolerance we sometimes use the word acceptance. The word that relates to God’s attributes of mercy is noseh – to carry.

We struggle with acceptance of others because we think it means we have to accept whatever we don’t like, as if to say “Whatever you’re doing is okay; I don’t care” when the truth is we really do care. It’s confusing. Are we supposed to lie about our feelings?

But the definition of tolerance consistently used by the author is “to agree to carry a heavy weight and continue to walk with it (i.e. love the person and not reject the person) in spite of its weightiness.

“Taking it upon himself” implies agreeing to make it his own problem, not just the other person’s problem. This is not the same as being enmeshed, where that person’s problem literally becomes my own. At the same time it’s not a flippant statement of “It’s not my problem; it’s his problem!” as if to say, “I don’t care.” I do care. I make it my concern. I take it upon myself.

This can be compared to adopting a child with a handicap. Yet parents who adopt such a child have an easier time than parents who have a child born with a handicap particularly because they didn’t choose it. What happens when there are people in our lives with problems that we didn’t choose? If I didn’t choose it I feel stuck.

In that event I can retroactively decide to choose what was originally thrust upon me against my will. I can make it my concern in the sense that we’re on the same team. Like Charlie Brown’s baseball team, we may have some lousy players but as long as we’re all on the same team we have to work with what we’ve got.

Batya Yaniger

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