Mishlei: From Where Will Wisdom Be Found? II
“Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who obtains understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13) “But where can wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12) This shows that Solomon was searching for it, asking, “Where is wisdom to be found?” Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua diasagreed: Rabbi Eliezer said, “Wisdom is found in the head,” while Rabbi Joshua said, “Wisdom is found in the heart.” Solomon came to agree with the opinion of Rabbi Joshua, citing the verse, “You put gladness into my heart.” (Psalms 4:8) And what is “gladness” if not wisdom, as it is said, “Get wisdom, my son, and gladden my heart, that I may have what to answer those who taunt me.” (Proverbs 27:11)
David also explicated this in the verse, “Fashion a pure heart for me, O Lord; create in me a steadfast spirit.” (Psalms 51:12) Why was wisdom put in the heart? Because all the other members of the body depend on the heart.
Solomon said, “I will not do as David, my father, had done. Father commenced his wisdom at the beginning of the alphabet and concluded it in the middle of the alphabet.” Where is the proof that David commenced at the beginning of the alphabet? In the verse, “Happy is the man,” (Psalms 1:1) Ashrei. And where is the proof that he concluded in the middle of the alphabet? In the verse, “Let all that breathes praise the Lord,” (Psalms 150:6) ends with “H,” from the middle of the alphabet.
“I, however,” continued Solomon, “ will not do so. Rather, at the outset I will begin with the middle of the alphabet and then conclude at the end. I will begin at the spot where wisdom is placed, in the heart, which is in the center.” Mishlei begins with “M,” in the center of the alphabet.
You may thus say that David followed the words of Rabbi Eliezer, while Solomon followed the words of Rabbi Joshua. Midrash Mishlei I
Solomon was searching for a different type of wisdom than that of his father. There is wisdom of the head and wisdom of the heart. Wisdom of the heart is often described as received wisdom from a teacher, much as Moshe received his wisdom from God. The teacher must first reach the student’s mind and present the information. The wisdom of the heart is similar to Aharon Hakohen’s, represented by the Choshen breastplate he wore over his heart. Aharon used his heart to understand those who came before him when seeking atonement or to discuss family strife. He did not use his brain, but his heart to respond. Moses taught his received wisdom.
How interesting that David used his Wisdom of the Mind to compose Psalms, the words that speak to our hearts and souls! Solomon, according to the above Midrash, sought Wisdom of the Heart to write Mishlei, his instruction manual for acquiring wisdom.
I recall a story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the father of the Mussar movement. A person was described to him as, “having gone through Shas, the entire Talmud.” Rav Salanter responded, “But has Shas gone through him?”
David composed Psalms with Wisdom of the Head to provide instruction and direction for the expressions of our souls. He gave us received wisdom to use our experiences and the feelings in our hearts to attach to God. He elevated our hearts to the mind; to appreciate how our spiritual longings and accomplishments make sense, and can be used to attach to God.
Solomon used Proverbs to teach us how to “Make Shas go through us,” how to make all the information we receive flow through our entire being, pumped around by Wisdom of the Heart.
“But where can wisdom be found?” In both the head and the heart. Our question, answerable only by us, is which wisdom do we need at this moment? Are we searching for Wisdom of the Mind to direct our spiritual longings? Are we looking for a way to take all the information we have received and have our hearts pump it through our entire being?