Wisdom is a Verb

November 29, 2018

4 min read


Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

Listen to the advice of others.

"Through me, Kings rule." (Proverbs 8:15)

Not money. Not power. Not family.

King Solomon is talking about wisdom. In the very short term, money, guns, family and friends will get you ahead. But in the long haul of life, wisdom rules.

In Ethics of the Fathers (4:1) "Ben Zoma says, Who is a wise? Someone who learns from everyone...." "Everyone" does not mean that everyone has something you can learn from; it means what's important is not who says something, but what he is saying. It means that living with a mistake is worse than realizing your mistake.

In other words, when someone wants to tell you something, don't worry about who he is or the way he says it. If you get caught up in those things then you just don't get it.

If you are going to get anywhere in life you need to know your mistakes, and in at least this one area, just about anyone can help you. Think about it. Don't you see the mistakes of the people around you? Now, if they could see their mistakes, see how counter-productive they are, in the same way you do, for sure they would stop.

So what's the problem? They don't see the mistakes the way you see them. They see them the way they see them, and not only that, they don't want to listen to you telling them.

Sounds pretty stupid doesn't it?

Well, look in the mirror; that's us! Everyone around us sees our mistakes, too, and if we would listen, oh, how much better life would be.

Simply put, listen to anyone who wants to teach you something. Looking stupid is so much better than being stupid. That is what Ben Zoma is trying to teach us. And that is the message of Yehuda.

Yehuda quite possibly reaches the bottom of the barrel in embarrassing moments. I just can't imagine facing an accused prostitute, accused by me that is, and realizing "she is more righteous than me." (Yehuda's words, Genesis 39:27).

Yehuda didn't have to admit his guilt. It was quite clear from Tamar's remarks that she was not going to publicly name him. But Yehuda knew he had to learn from her, because, as Ben Zoma points out, it is so much better to learn from your mistakes than to keep repeating them.

If the world produced people who never sinned, that would make a nice change. But as King Solomon (Koheles 7:20) pointed out, "There is no one in the world who does not sin." In the world we have, not making mistakes is not an option, but learning from your mistakes is. Rare as it may be.

Rare, but not difficult. We actually live this way in the area of health. When it comes to an infection, malady, sore, rash or any number of bothersome complaints, we will listen to just about anyone.

When it comes to health, we are naturally wise. Therefore, be wise when it comes to life.

It is no accident therefore, that from Yehuda come the kings of Israel. "Learn from all men" means, don't let your insecurities stop you from listening. Wisdom is more important than that. The key is not how much you know but how much you desire to know.

A wise man learns from the mistakes of others, a fool has to learn from his own mistakes, and insanity is even worse: The insane don't even do that! A crazy person is someone who keeps making the same mistakes over and over expecting different results.

Why are we wise in health and fools in business? There is even an expression just designed for when you give business advice: "Mind your own business!" Unfortunately, it's an expression used in parenting too.

Wouldn't your business do better, and maybe even your children, if we listened to other's as much as we do in health. When it comes to health, getting a regular check-up is the norm, don't your parenting skills need the same?

So, if you want my advice, listen to the advice of others. It's a lot better than being crazy.

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