middot patience mesorah compassionate faith

compassionate faith

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-panicRav Kook understands savlanut in terms more closely related to what we would call “tolerance.” More often than not, religious people are faulted for their lack of tolerance. While I would assert that non-religious people can be just as intolerant as religious folks, I appreciate the insistence on holding religious people to a higher standard! After all, shouldn’t we be exemplifying God’s highest values? If this is the case, then savlanut takes on a whole new layer of meaning when we think of it as tolerance.


When tolerance in the realm of ideas is inspired by a heart that is pure and free from every kind of evil, it is not likely to dim the feelings of holy enthusiasm that are part of a simple religious faith, the source of the happiness of all life. On the contrary, it will broaden and enhance the basis of the enthusiasm dedicated to God. Tolerance is equipped with a profound faith … for the life of the living God is present in all life.… It is manifest in the noble qualities we encounter … even among … those afflicted with heresy and consumed with doubts. Out of this great and holy perception and faith is engendered tolerance, to encircle all with the thread of compassion.

(Translation from Abraham Isaac Kook, p. 175)

If we find ourselves unable to tolerate ideas that challenge our most deeply held values it is important to examine why. Is it because we’re truly taking a stand for God? Or are we so unstable in our own convictions that we hit the panic button over fallacies? For myself, I find it is more often the latter. God is bigger than the world, and much more embedded in it than I often realize. The challenges that come our way ought to serve to strengthen faith, uproot any previously unknown idolatry in our thinking, and deepen genuine love for those who are different. I do not think Rav Kook was expressing a condescending tolerance. Rather, I believe he was trying to remind us that God can be found even in the darkest of places. This is what savlanut is all about: the awareness that there is always more to learn and love, and willingness to bear with the difficulties that necessarily deepen learning and loving. 

When I have strong faith in God’s sovereignty over all things, I can be patient in the motor vehicle registry line and tolerant with the atheist who wants nothing to do with a “god” who seems indifferent to human suffering. When we grow in the middah of savlanut, in its proper balance, we can discover real goodness even among tax collectors and sinners. After all, the Best of us spent most of his time with those who were the most intolerable. He had compassion and taught us to do the same. May we all grow to be more like our model of savlanut, Yeshua.

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