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Mishlei: Skilled Vision

“A wise design will watch over you and understanding will safeguard you, to rescue you from the way of evil, from a person who speaks duplicities, from those who forsake paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness.” (Proverbs 2:11-13)

The Talmudic lecture was an intellectual and creative tour de force that skipped all over the Talmud and tens of sources. I admired the rabbi’s brilliance, but I felt empty and envious. I wasn’t jealous of the rabbi’s knowledge and genius; I simply recommitted myself to learn more and work harder. However, the faces of everyone around me were shinning with excitement. I wanted to experience the same joy. I did not want to feel so empty, but, although I admired the rabbi’s knowledge and creativity, I felt that his point was, well, not true. Actually, I sensed that he was wrong. I didn’t have his knowledge, and certainly was not as brilliant. I couldn’t prove that he was wrong. I felt it. So, I was uncomfortable when my father zt”l asked me, with a sparkle in his eyes, “What did you think of the lecture?”

“He is a genius. He knows a lot,” was all I could say, hesitant to voice my feelings.

“I didn’t ask you about him. I asked you about the lecture!”

“It was brilliant.”

“Did you like what he said?”

“No. I’m convinced that he was wrong. I can’t prove it, but I refuse to accept his reading of the Talmud, Rashi and the Rambam.”

“I agree! Always trust your gut. His wisdom deserves enough respect for you to review what he said and figure out if he was right or wrong, but your gut is a powerful guide to truth. The more you learn the more you will develop your gut instinct. Now, let’s review what he said, and I ‘ll show you how it was utter non-sense!” My father took me step by step through the entire lecture and pointed out the inaccurate readings of the sources, and the weaknesses in the logic.

Many years later I attended a philosophical lecture of a rabbinic giant. The words were musical. The presentation was a masterpiece. It was an experience, not a simple lecture, but I was left with the same empty feeling. In fact, I felt that the lecturer’s ideas were dangerous. I remembered my father’s words, and repeatedly listened to a recording, researching each source, considering each point, and arguing back and forth in my mind. I fluctuated wildly from being convinced that the speaker was correct to being equally convinced that he was dead wrong. I finally concluded that he was dangerously wrong. I called my father: “Does Pa remember what he told me after the shiur of Rabbi _____? I just had a similar experience.” I went on to review the lecture and report on my process and how I reached my conclusion. My father challenged me, offered suggestions, and made me work hard, but I was still convinced that the speaker was offering false ideas. My father’s response was: “If I wasn’t so happy that you trusted your instincts, I would be furious to hear that such a great man offered such corrupt ideas!”

I can’t prove that 9-11 was not a punishment for the weaknesses in our observance of the laws of Tzniut, but I know that the idea is patently false and dangerous. I can’t absolutely prove that Iran’s nuclear weapon’s program is not a punishment for our supporting the State of Israel, anymore than I can absolutely prove that the current economic crisis is God’s response to our limited charitable giving, but I know that both ideas are absolutely wrong. My gut tells me so, the gut that has been developed by learning and observance.

This is exactly what King Solomon is teaching us when he says, “A wise design will watch over you and understanding will safeguard you, to rescue you from the way of evil, from a person who speaks duplicities, from those who forsake paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness.” The Wisest of Men is promising those who follow his Wisdom Course will develop an instinctual sense of what is right and true, and what is wrong and false.

We find a similar idea in Psalms, when King David prays, “Avert my eyes from seeing futility.” (Psalms 119:37) “Ha’aver Einiy,” “My eyes,” not, “Mei’einiy,” “from my eyes.” David is requesting more than just not having to see evil; he is requesting vision so skilled that he instinctually knows when something, an idea, a thought, a lecture, and yes, even an essay, is wrong.

Once we have received “The Gift of Wisdom,” we will develop the skilled vision necessary to protect us from false paths and ideas.

To Be Continued…

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