Mishlei: The Tools of Intelligence – Verse 1:2
“To know (Da’at) wisdom (Chochma) and instruction (Mussar); to perceive (Binah) words of perception.” (1:2) King Solomon introduces us to Proverbs with terms that are familiar and fundamental to the Service of God: Chochma, Binah, and Da’at. We regularly use these three terms in our prayers:
“You graciously endow man with knowledge (Da’at) and teach perception (Binah) to a mere mortal. Endow us graciously from Yourself with wisdom – Chochma – perception and knowledge [Ashkenaz: discernment (Sechel)]. You are the Source of all blessing, Gracious Giver of knowledge.”
Process: The Advancement of Knowledge
We receive each of these, Chochma, Binah, and Da’at, through assorted methods. Both, the verse and the prayer, differentiate between the way we acquire Da’at and Binah. Solomon describes Chochma as something we know, and Binah as what we can perceive in words that offer deeper insight. The prayer describes Da’at as a gracious gift, and Binah as something we are taught.
Over the course of time, phenomena enter our collective consciousness as mysteries – things we observe and that intrigue us, but that we don’t yet understand. For instance, the mystery of gravity once confounded our ancestors; when they looked around at the world, they saw that most objects, apples famously, seemed to fall to the ground quickly; but others, such as birds, did not. Some fell but seemed to take forever, like leaves and feathers.
We start out with these mysteries, and at some point, because they intrigue us, we put enough thought into them to produce a first-level understanding of the question at hand. We develop heuristics – ways of understanding the general principles of what was heretofore mysteries. Heuristics are rules of thumb or guidelines for solving a mystery by way of organized exploration of the possibilities.
Some people master the heuristics, while others remain stuck in the world of mystery. There are people who not consciously consider gravity beyond knowing that things fall. Others may notice and wonder, but have no desire to understand. A more developed mind will ask and perhaps have the patience and discipline to learn how gravity works and pursue the ideas until he reaches Black Holes and the powerful attraction of their mass.
A person may simply accept that “God” exists without ever wondering Who and What God is. Another will wonder about God and feel overwhelmed. Yet another person will study about God and memorize facts and information. The facts can be pursued and applied to infinite levels.
We can know how to shake a Lulav. We may ask what the Four Species represent and be satisfied with some basic analogies to different people or parts of the body. A person may search for a practical way to understand how shaking some branches and a fruit can create spiritual realities. How do all these ideas connect back to God, the purpose of creation and my potential as a human being?
The observation of the mystery is the gift of Da’at. The desire to understand the mystery is an even more primal part of the gift. The drive to eternally search for a deeper understanding is a more powerful gift. These terms are not only nouns of categories of intelligence; they also describe varying degrees of the way we process and relate to information.
They are basic to the way we relate to God, the world, Mitzvot and life. King Solomon begins by opening the doors to the different levels of knowledge and the various tools necessary to use the former.