There are “wise guys” and there are “wise people.” We know the difference, right?
A wise guy is a “know it all.” A wise guy pretends to have answers when they don’t. A wise guy is arrogant and deprecates others.
A wise person is just the opposite. Wisdom is measured by humility, the capacity to listen and to hear, and the ability to be deferential and respectful.
A little from our tradition:
In the Ethics of our Fathers the rabbis ask the question: “Who is wise?” And they answer simply: One who learns from everyone. This is more than a cliché; this is a posture for living life. When you are open to others and when you listen to others, you often find fresh insight, new ideas, and new visions. When you think you know already, or that the other has nothing to teach you, you are closed. In our world, too often people look at another and ask themselves what they can possibly learn from that person. They remember something they once said, or who they have been associated with. They remember what a person thought about this or that. And in this, a wealth of information can be ignored and good ideas can be lost.
The Talmud (Brachot 55a) teaches something strange. It says that God gives wisdom to the one who has wisdom. Why would that be? Wouldn’t it be smarter and more effective to give wisdom to the one who has no wisdom? The answer may lie in this week’s Torah reading.
In it we see that God called on the “wise of heart” to build the sacred structure, the tabernacle, in the wilderness. This probably referred to a certain type of wisdom – people with aesthetic sensibility, people who were receptive to new ideas, people with imagination, and people who had a sense of where they came from and a vision of where they wanted to go.
In a later time in our history and literature, Solomon was asked if he could have one request fulfilled what would it be? And he answered: “A heart that hears.” Solomon was known for his wisdom. And hearing hearts are in people that have empathy and compassion.
Is that the same as wisdom? In my book it is. Those are the wise people.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l