I am approaching college graduation and my friends and I did an exercise: We made a "bucket list" of all the things we want to try and achieve during our lifetime. One friend who I respect a lot, put "acquire wisdom" at the top of her list. Does Judaism have a concept of wisdom, and if so, what is it?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Funny you should ask. Judaism also puts "wisdom" at the top of the list!
What is wisdom? It is tools for living that you can apply to any pursuit - business, relationships, sports, whatever. Wisdom is therefore the most important quality for a successful life, the building block of all else.
To be wise, you can't casually absorb wisdom; you have to actively pursue it. More wisdom equals more life, more pleasure, and more meaning. It is the ultimate value.
Most people would rather learn from their own mistakes than learn from others. We imagine we'll just "figure it all out" as we go along.
But life is too short for this. Why make mistakes that we could otherwise prevent? As the saying goes: "A fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise person learns from the mistakes of others."
So what is the key to obtaining as much wisdom in life as possible? The Sages say: "Who is the wise person? He who learns from all people."
The Talmud (Avot 5:24) says that age 60 marks the arrival of maturity. Now that can't mean physical maturity, so it is explained that it refers to wisdom. The word Zaken (literally "old") is an acronym for Ze Kana Chachma = He has acquired wisdom.
The key to a successful life is to choose a goal, and then attain it. Of course, it's important to choose the right goal, to know what pleasure you're really going after. Otherwise you could end up a millionaire - and miserable. To learn more about Jewish wisdom, see the classic series: "48 Ways.”