On any given day, whether here at home or in some foreign land, someone is targeted for being different. The venue might be on a school playground or in a crowded nightclub, during a peaceful demonstration or a chance encounter. The difference may be in skin color, sexual orientation or gender, religion or any number of other reasons. We are witnessing a quickly rising number of unspeakable atrocities, most occurring due to intolerance of different backgrounds, beliefs or lifestyles. Should we not be more tolerant of those whose lives may seem different from ours? The obvious answer for most people would be an affirmative one. I ask myself a different question. Who am I to feel superior to anyone else? What gives me the right to assume that anyone else needs MY tolerance, MY permission, MY acceptance to live as they would like? Don’t they already have that right inherently? Tolerance isn’t enough. Understanding that all people have a God-given right to live and enjoy their lives as they see fit is essential. Anything less should be unacceptable.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, indeed almost every major religion, espouses the concept of a Golden Rule, to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. That concept has its basis in love. How can we love others who seem so different from us? The solution to this worldwide epidemic of violence followed by more violence cannot be found in hate for others. It can only be found in love. As early as 1958 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” We have not yet learned that lesson in the 60 years since those words were first spoken.

We cannot wait for someone else to do something. Each of us must be that someone else. One might ask how can I, just a single individual, make a difference in such an enormous issue. The Talmud tells us that we cannot be concerned with the enormity of issues. It states, ” Do justly, NOW. Love mercy, NOW. Walk humbly, NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Instead of tolerating others who are different, let us realize that in reality we are all different from each other. I am not a Pollyanna, nor am I naive, but let real love replace tolerance and watch the world begin to heal.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and also serves as the executive director of The Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. He can be reached at:

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