This small journey began a week ago. A friend of mine, who has a failing business, told me of his efforts to extricate himself from the possibility of bankruptcy. What made it complicated was the fact that his partner was a family member. As the partnership was breaking up he was learning to become intolerant. He was making his own boundaries, taking care of his interests, and at the same avoiding “invitations” to get into emotional fights.
Intolerance today is generally understood as expressing unwillingness to grant equal freedom of expression, especially in religious matters or to grant social, political or professional rights; but it also means simply being unwilling to endure, allow or accept something.
My friend could no longer tolerate someone who he described as ego-centered and unable to listen to criticism; someone who projected their desires and mistakes onto others and saw the world as black or white; in short someone who was incommunicable and intolerable.
This conversation took place in the week of Lag b’Omer. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was intolerant of the Romans. He expressed the opinion that their motivation for building public works was Roman interests; thus he found himself a wanted man.
Rabbi Shimon and his son, Rabbi Elazar fled and spent 12 years in a cave studying Torah. When they came out into the world they were so upset that people could occupy themselves with mundane matters that with their Holy Gaze they burned everything in sight. Then a Heavenly Voice called out and told them to go back into the cave for they were not meant to destroy the world; a clear message of Divine intolerance for intolerance.
Rabbi Shimon needed another year in the cave in order to learn that his role was to preserve the world. This required harnessing the power of the Torah through toleration for others, and developing the path of inner spiritual growth. Then all of a sudden a TV interview shocked me out of my parochial concerns.
If Rabbi Shimon was alive today I wonder how he would have reacted to a Fox news interview with Pamela Geller and Imam Choudary after the killings at the Texas Mohammed Cartoon Contest, organized by Geller.
The interviewer, Sean Hannity, questioned Choudray about death threats that Geller had received. He replied: she insulted the prophet and knew full well that under Sharia law this carries a death penalty; she knew the consequences. When Hannity commented that in America people don’t live under oppressive Sharia law, Choudary replied “you will do one day.” Hannity finished the conversation with the parting words you are “evil and pathetic.”
For some time I couldn’t stop thinking about the interview, but all words seemed irrelevant. I felt like I was walking around in a haze. I had not been watching the news; instead I had been a passive accessory to a crime, which may well take place in the future, God forbid. Then something began to register.
In groups there are always conscious and unconscious forces at work. One of the functions of a group leader is to enable unconscious content, powerful emotions such as hate, anger, aggression, jealousy, to be openly expressed. If not, it remains underneath the surface and is acted out instead of spoken about. Here I was, struck dumb, feeling very disturbed, not knowing why; why, everything had been said. Evil, Hannity said.
“Eclipsing God the Nazis eclipsed the absolute obligation imposed from beyond (not to kill), so that the will from within posed the only limits to their actions. Appropriating God, the Jihadists appropriate the authority to impose from beyond what they have determined to be the will of Allah, which is not a matter of human will but an absolute obligation.” (Patterson 2011)
Choudary’s message was clear: Geller knew what she was doing and deserved to be punished – by death. That is God’s Law.
Jeffrey Herf in “The Jewish Enemy” describes Nazi propaganda during WW 11. “Nazi propaganda attempted to instill terror in the hearts and minds of millions of Germans, through predictions of Jewry’s intent to exterminate them all. As Goebbels put it, the Jews were guilty and deserved to be punished.”
The Nazi’s had “grandiose visions of world domination by a master race (which) coexisted with the paranoia of the righteously indignant innocent victim.” (Herf 2006) The road to world domination is paved with the insulted and their victims.
On this road “the war against terror and the quest for freedom are inextricably linked, and neither can succeed without the other. The struggle is no longer limited to one or two countries, as some Westerners still manage to believe. It has acquired first a regional then a global dimension, with profound consequences for all of us.” (Lewis 2004) We live in a world of terror and freedom; a world of tolerance and intolerance. What was there to learn from all this?
Last week my friend had come to teach me that in order to look after one’s interests sometimes one has to be intolerant.
Rabbi Shimon had come to teach me that there is not only a regional and global dimension to the struggle, but an inner one. And the hardest lesson to learn is that one has to develop one’s own inner dimension of tolerance and intolerance.
Messrs.’ Hannity, Geller and Choudary had come to teach me that the media has awesome power to fragment and thus to confuse. The threatened hint of world domination was there, the indignant insulted victim was there. What was not there was the connection between the two; after all it was only a 10 minutes news interview. But it was all there.
Herf, J. (2006) The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War 11 and the Holocaust. London: Harvard University Press.
Lewis, B. (2004) The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. London: Phoenix
Patterson, D. (2011) A Genealogy of Evil: Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad. New York: Cambridge University Press.