Have you ever been in the ironic position where someone accused you of lacking tolerance and in the process became intolerant toward you?

Several weeks ago, I was visiting a synagogueI tried to engage him, but he refused one morning when a total stranger disagreed with something I said and started to shout at me. He didn’t know me at all, but was convinced that he knew about my lack of openness to other points of view. I tried to engage him, and he refused. I tried to introduce myself, but he refused. I tried to shake his hand, but once again, he refused.

I believe that this kind of attitude is rooted in a basic misconception of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that we must agree with divergent points of view. Tolerance doesn’t even mean that we must consider all points of view as potentially correct. Tolerance means that while we might reject an idea, we don’t reject the person.

Tolerance and Conviction

Rejecting certain ideas goes along with having moral convictions.

So if rejecting certain ideas is equated with being intolerant, then there is no room for moral conviction.

I believe that we can be tolerant and believe in the correctness of our position. I can connect with you, and I can find something admirable in you, even as I vehemently disagree with you.

Don’t Fight on the Path

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but in a surprise turn of events, Joseph went from being a slave to becoming viceroy of Egypt. When a famine struck the Middle East and the brothers traveled to Egypt, where food was plentiful, they discovered that their own brother was now viceroy. Joseph sent them home laden with food and gifts, but admonished them not to fight on the path home.1

The conventional understanding of this admonishment was that he wanted to be sure they would not fight over who was at fault for selling him into slavery. But one commentator took a novel approach to these words.2

Joseph understood that he was different than his brothers. They preferred shepherding and meditating in solitude, while he made use of his outgoing nature to effect change in his surroundings.

Joseph understood that his brothers’ primaryJust because we disagree, doesn't mean we need to fight issue with him was this basic difference. They were afraid of the one anomaly in the family who had embarked on an unfamiliar path. They had no idea where this path might lead, and they didn’t think it would lead anywhere good. In a bid to stop him, they sold him into slavery.

Now that they were reunited, Joseph admonished them, “Don’t fight over the path.” Don’t get into a fight over which path in the service of G‑d is the correct one. We know that we disagree, but just because we disagree, doesn’t mean that we need to fight. We don’t have to grow angry when we discover a divergent point of view. Others are entitled to respect, even if we think they are wrong.

It is okay to think that others are wrong. It is okay to tell others that they are wrong. But it must be communicated with respect. Remember that you are disagreeing with an idea, not with a person. And if you can’t agree with this person on this one subject, look for another subject on which you can agree.