Mishlei-Chapter Four-Wisdom for Religion
“Hear, my child, and take my sayings, that the years of your life be many. I teach you in the ways of wisdom, I guide you on pathways of rightness. When you walk, your step is not straitened. If you run, you will not stumble.”
What is the connection between the recent Republican debates and the tragic events in Israel when religious men spat and intimidated a schoolgirl?
There is a huge difference between religion and wisdom. Most of the Republican candidates are more than willing to wear their religion on their sleeves. They speak of God calling to them to run to become the next president. However, how can a religious person use attacks and criticism to prove that he or she is most worthy of the office? There is absolutely no wisdom in tearing down the reputations of others who may play and important role in the forthcoming presidential election. They may practice religion, but they do so without wisdom.
How can a religious man terrorize a young girl? He may yell and scream about his religious values, but all he has accomplished is to win the disdain of others. He is using his religion to destroy a child. He is desecrating God’s Name. He is practicing religion without wisdom.
In 1971 someone published pamphlets vilifying my father and accusing him of terrible things. The pamphlets went out all over the Toronto Jewish community. When I saw my father, I asked him, “why don’t you fight back?” He looked perfectly calm. I was far too young to understand all the political implications of what was happening and simply wanted my father to fight back and destroy the wicked person who had dared say such terrible things. My father sat me down and opened up a Bible to the Second Book of Samuel, when King David is retreating from Jerusalem and is cursed by a prominent person, Shimi ben Geira. David’s retinue wanted to kill the man, but David remained perfectly calm. “Obviously, God wanted me to experience this.” My father turned to me and said, “I don’t know why, but instead of considering my attacker, I have to first reflect on me; what is God teaching me?”: My father used his wisdom, informed and shaped by the Torah’s wisdom, to direct his response to a situation that would have shaken anyone else. His reaction was a religious action; it was informed by the Bible. However, his application of religion was guided by wisdom.
King Solomon is teaching us that religion is not enough, and that there is a huge difference between religion and wisdom. He wants us to use our Torah study to acquire the necessary wisdom to direct our religious lives. He wants our wisdom to be such a natural and integral part of our responses to life, its challenges, and, to other people, that everything we do will be with proper perspective. Our wisdom can protect us. It can stop us from a dangerous overreaction. It can prevent us from slipping and tripping over our religious convictions.
When someone complains to me about a difficult situation, by I begin hearing them out; I allow them to express everything they are feeling, within the boundaries of Halacha, meaning, without speaking evil of anyone else. Once they are calm, I can review all the laws that apply to the situation. The laws provide clarity and perspective. The laws are all the wisdom necessary to learn how to respond in a constructive way without adding fuel to the fire.
The next time you face a difficult situation with another person, allow yourself time to calm down. Then review the situation through the eyes of Torah’s wisdom. You will be shocked by how many of the mitzvot apply. The mitzvot will be a source of tremendous wisdom. They will guide you in responding to the situation with maturity, clarity, and strength. Will it be a religious response? Certainly. But, it will be religion guided by wisdom. It will keep you safe.