During the height of Roman persecution, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was charged by the Romans of defaming the Empire. Under threat of death, he and his son fled and hid in a cave for twelve years. When the Emperor passed away, father and son left the cave. As they walked free for the first time in over a decade, they saw people neglecting their studies and tending their fields. The pair were incredulous, exclaiming, “These people are neglecting eternal life and occupying themselves with temporal life?!” Everywhere they looked was immediately burnt. A voice manifested by God declared, “Why did you come out of the cave? To destroy my world?! Go back!” They stayed another twelve months, and were then allowed to exit.
Many lessons are gleaned from this episode; the one I’d like to focus on is tolerance. During their isolated study in the cave, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his son forgot how to be tolerant of others. While they might have been correct in their criticism of their neighbors’ neglect of Torah study, being correct isn’t always right.
Jews are not allowed to sit idly by while others sin. God commanded the Jewish people, “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:17), yet God continued, “but, you shall not bear a sin on his account,” meaning that while rebuking the sinner, you may not embarrass him in public.
In his work the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides instructed us how to relate to those who violate the Torah without recognizing the gravity of their actions. We should “Inspire them to repent and draw them to the power of the Torah with words of peace.” At Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah we teach and follow this rational approach. Screaming, yelling, and scolding doesn’t make us better Jews, and it doesn’t draw others closer to the Torah and God.”
It is through knowledge that we achieve love. Studying God’s Torah is essential to learning to love God and others. We cannot love God if we don’t know God. We are taught that loving God includes teaching others to observe God’s mitzvot and to believe in Him. When you love a person, for example, you praise him and call out to others to draw close to him. So too, if you truly love God — through your understanding and realization of His existence — you will certainly spread this true knowledge that you know (Maimonides, Book of Mitzvot, Love of God). It is love for God and others that drives observant Jews in their relationship with God and others. We are intolerant of intolerance towards others.
Facing homosexuality is quickly becoming the greatest challenge of Orthodox Judaism today. As the intellectual base of Orthodox Judaism, yeshivot must be on the front line of facing this challenge. Yeshivot must face the challenge head on. Rabbis must teach their students that homosexuality exists, that while we might not identity with the LGBT community, we must show love and draw them close to the Torah. We must never shun — we must love and demonstrate love. We accept the person, even if we don’t accept their actions. We might not have a one size fits all solution to the challenge that homosexuality poses to the observant community, but we do know that we must be open to all Jews.
At Migdal Hatorah we have taught and are committed to teach tolerance for our fellow Jews. We see no contradiction in leading a life by the Torah’s values and loving those that lead their lives differently than ours. We are intolerant of intolerance, and are bolstered by the knowledge that many yeshivot take our rational approach as well. We know that this week’s horrific attack reminds us of the need to teach our students the necessity of tolerance for all.