Tolerance (Part 2)

  • Rav Hillel Rachmani

As we aspire towards the higher planes of supernal holiness and practice tolerant zeal, as described in the last lecture, we encounter what appears to be a problem. When confronted with the world around us, we witness ideas and behaviors, such as, for example, idolatry, which directly oppose our beliefs, and of which we assume we ought to be intolerant. It is seemingly inconceivable that these forces originate from the supernal holiness, and therefore we are unable to recognize them as a facet of the greater truth. Therefore, we conclude that monotheism sometimes ought to be intolerant.

Arguing that this is not the case, Rav Kook makes use of a kabbalistic idea. He explains that there is nothing in the universe which does not contain a divine spark. Any idea which is pure falsehood will spontaneously collapse; only if it contains an element of truth will the falsehood be able to survive. Therefore, no idea is totally devoid of at least a trace of truth. Fascism, for instance, is a distortion of nationalism, coupled with a corrupted desire to perfect the world. From the purest evil can be extracted traits which, properly used, can do tremendous good. It is the grain of truth which attracts people to ideas which are evil.

Rav Kook maintains that by recognizing and extracting the truth, we can decode these foreign ideas which, once devoid of their anchor of truth, can no longer be sustained. In that way, we can find a trace of good even within the idol-worshippers: we do not accept the untruths they preach, but we can certainly appreciate and learn from their motivation to serve a god, albeit the wrong one. No group can be dismissed and excluded, because each contains a particle of truth, of Godliness.

When you reveal these sparks of truth in ideas foreign to Judaism, you expose yourself to another shaft of the Divine Light. At the same time, by separating the truth from the lies in which it is buried, you combat evil as well. As we explained, falsehood cannot stand on its own, and survives only by virtue of the truth mixed together with it. And at the moment that we begin to search for the truth, and distinguish the good from the bad which accompanies it, the evil, having nothing to "stand on," falls away. (This is very similar to the psycho-analytical approach which maintains that at the moment that one uncovers, realizes and becomes aware of the source of his problems or confusion, all of the havoc caused by this one problem falls away.)

Furthermore, the more sparks you reveal, and the more facets of truth you integrate into yourself, the more complete you become. If your view of truth is narrow, you exclude yourself from self-completeness, and hamper your ability to achieve the level of the supernal saint.

In practice, each person or group is some "color". Ideally, this "color" ought to be connected to the white light of unity and to aspire to the supernal source of that light. While it is impossible to fully comprehend that source of light, because it is essentially "Godliness," we can nonetheless approach it. In this way, we can live in peace with each other, and perhaps through searching out and associating with other aspects of the Divine light, we can ascend the ladder of colors, and perhaps one of us will merit inhabiting the realms of the supernal holiness.

Rav Kook was a rabbi and a teacher. Although he did not personally plough the fields and thus exemplify "chalutziut" (pioneering) on a physical level, he knew how to connect spiritually with that important ideal. As individuals we must discover our talents and develop the gifts that God has given us. To use the analogy of the orchestra, we must discover which musical instruments we possess, and proceed to master them. However, we must be able to sit back and listen to the whole composition. We may only play a single instrument, but we can value and appreciate the others and work together with them. This is how we can arrive at self-completeness and reach the spiritual heights.

As a community, however, what are we? We try to unify and combine all three forces (religiosity, nationalism, and humanism). But perhaps a group requires a clearer identity, a clearer flag, a clearer "color." It is possible that without this the community is unstable. This could explain the recent tendency towards extreme nationalism in the supposedly balanced religious-zionist camp.

Having said that, now that we have tried to play all the instruments in the orchestra, and have invested considerable time and effort into playing them well, are we prepared to give some of them up? Would it be possible for us to drop the nationalist/religious/moral agenda from our overall outlook? If it were possible, would it be ideal? Can there be a community of the supernal holiness at all?

Until we have answers to these questions, we must move ahead as best we can, unveiling truth wherever it is to be found, and thus promoting tolerance and unity at a time when, perhaps more than ever, these traits are lacking.

(This lecture summary was prepared by: Benjamin Ellis)