Off the Pulpit

Traveling at Home

There is nothing like travel to remind us how often proximity makes us intolerant. In another country, when we see a custom that is different from our own, we think, ‘well they have different assumptions and ideas here.’ When we see that our fellow citizens differ from us, we rage against their idiocy, unable to imagine how they could not agree with our own views.

The Rabbis had a wise principle: “The frequent takes precedence over the rare.” So a holiday that comes all of the time, like the Sabbath, takes precedence over holidays that come once a year. According to the same principle, we should be kinder to our family than to strangers.

Yet often we do precisely the reverse: distance activates our empathy. Our country and our lives would be better if we could imagine our fellow citizens as foreign, our family as strangers — only for the purposes of giving them the space to be different. Love those who are like you when they are unlike you. Have the heart of a traveler at home.