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Hebrew is Magic: Tolerate This!

Today’s word is based on the following billboard, currently posted in my hometown of Ra’anana.

In many countries around the world, including Israel, June is Pride Month. This billboard declares that here in Ra’anana, we celebrate both ge’ava

(“pride”) and sovlanut

“tolerance.”

It’s that second word that we’ll explore further.

While tolerance is often portrayed as “loving everyone for who they are,” Hebrew takes a more pragmatic view, one based on how human beings actually think and behave.

To truly understand the meaning of sovlanut, we must examine the shoresh (root), in this case samech-bet-lamed

a three-letter word that means “suffering.”

So tolerance, according to Hebrew, involves an element of internal suffering or struggle.

While this view may seem less warm than one that propagates universal love and understanding, it is, in my opinion, more in touch with reality.

Likewise, Hebrew makes clear that just because we may not naturally love or like certain individuals (or even groups), that doesn’t let us off the hook: True tolerance means accepting them anyway, even if doing so causes us discomfort.

In their 1967 hit “Get Together,” the Youngbloods implored humankind to “love one another right now.” While a beautiful idea, Hebrew would likely suggest, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Hebrew recognizes that unconditional love for one another is an aspirational goal, but not the starting point. The first step towards a better world begins with treating each other fairly and equitably.

Regardless of how we feel.


Joel Chasnoff is a stand-up comedian, podcast host, and co-author of Israel 201, winner of the 2023 National Jewish Book Award. You can find out more about his comedy, books, and upcoming tour at www.joelchasnoff.com, and sign up for his weekly newsletter, Hebrew Is Magic, to learn more about the hidden life lessons in Hebrew words.  

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