It's Time to Get Mad

The Downside of Unholy Tolerance

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov Jax., Florida

While in search of a new community in which to relocate, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev had arrived with his followers at a particular village. Upon looking around, it seemed like the town might’ve just been right for the Rabbi and his growing Chassidic sect to set up shop, at least from their viewpoint. As for the townsfolk, they appeared to have a slightly different perspective.

In a not-so-subtle display of their feelings, 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 refreshing."

Anger and intolerance seem to have lost any and all place in modern civilization. Such emotions are considered taboo, 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!"

While intolerance and anger are generally not positive emotions, especially when spewed-forth instinctively and uncontrollably, there are times when these types of expression are not only okay but necessary – the only just and humane response to prevailing circumstances and conditions. In situations when such expressions are required the lack thereof is arguably just as bad, or perhaps worse, then exhibiting such emotions unjustifiably.

Our cultural intolerance for any expression of social indignation is not only a denial of our true human dimension, which inherently and rightfully rejects and opposes certain ideas and behaviors, but it also plays into the ever-growing war against human responsibility.

For if the expression of intolerance is politically unacceptable than intolerance itself is unacceptable. If intolerance is unacceptable than, by definition, everything is tolerable. Accordingly, there is no ideology or conduct that is categorically bad or wrong.  

This warped mindset has led to new lows 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 often used as a means of defending all types of detrimental, immoral and inhuman conduct and trends, so as to avoid personal accountability.

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 denial of one’s aptitude for full responsibility of his actions is in reality the greatest affront to his essential being. Hence, 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, Va’eira, 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). The 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.”

After years of slavery and drudgery the Israelites found themselves in the deepest troughs of ungodliness. Even worse, they had sunk into a terrible state of “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 Egyptian bondage, G‑d had to first free them of their own inner bondage and slave mentality, which is the more serious and cruel symptom of enslavement. G‑d's first and foremost promise was thus 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 then follow. The Almighty would then break the chains of Egyptian civilization 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 civilization, 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 spiritually.

Yes, patience and tolerance are virtues, but we cannot allow ourselves to 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 to define it as such, 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.