Friday, May 27, 2005

Pirkei Avot, Perek Daled

I was looking through this beautiful Pirkei Avot we have at home (Ethics from Sinai: A Wide-Ranging Commentary on Pirkei Avos) by Irving M. Bunim, and after reading the first mishnah of the Perek Daled, I found this really nice, short thing, so here:

The Mishnah starts out: Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? -- one who learns from every person.

On this, R'Bunim says, "The essential point of Ben Zoma's observation is that ultimately wisdom is not any one fixed body of knowledge, some definite thing that can be possessed once and for all. It is not a substance which , once you have enough of it, qualifies you to be called wise. Wisdom is rather a kind of activity, an approach to life, a way of life. It you would be wise, you must learn to act wisely, especially in your relationships with others. You must develop and retain the ability to learn from others, to add something to your own personality as a result of each experience. Hence, wisdom is not a permanent quality, to lock away and retain in treasure-vaults of the mind. The day a person stops acting wisely, to acquire wisdom, he is no longer wise." Profound.

R'Bunim explains that first "we must acknoledge and accept that is can be done, that we can learn from every person." He parallels wisdom to Torah, which is compared to water. When you need water, you'll take it from anyone. It doesn't matter if the person has a lower social standing than you--you need to survive. Just like you'd take water from anyone, you'd learn Torah from anyone, and likewise, you'd take lessons from anyone you meet. That's wisdom. "Man cannot create wisdom. he must find it. Seek, and the Almighty will reward you with His blessing, and you will find. This, then, is Ben Zoma's teaching: The person who makes the effort to learn from everyone will be blessed with wisdom."

Shabbat shalom!

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