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Mishlei: The Wisdom To Use Wisdom

“That a wise one may hear and increase his learning, and a discerning one may acquire strategies.” (Proverbs 1:5) King Solomon, the wisest of all people, understood that even the wise person must learn about wisdom and how to use and apply it. “Even the great scholar must learn wisdom in order to know how to gain even more from his teachers.” (Vilna Gaon, Commentary to Proverbs)

Rabbi Akiva had already achieved monumental learning and wisdom. He was traveling to visit his Rebbi when he noticed the corpse of a Jew unattended on the ground. He had an opportunity to accomplish the Mitzvah of caring for a Meit Mitzvah – caring for the corpse of someone who has no one else to attend to its needs and honor. Rabbi Akiva lifted the corpse and carried it for miles until he found a Jewish cemetery and buried it with great honor there.

When he shared his wonderful experience with his teacher, he was rebuked, “Akiva, don’t you know that you must bury such a corpse where you found it? You did not do the right thing.”

Rabbi Akiva understood that even with all his great knowledge he easily slipped into doing what he thought best, rather than following the law. He immediately accepted to serve his teacher for many more years, until he could feel that he had internalized his wisdom.

We find the image of an absent-minded professor to be amusing. However, Solomon is reminding us that the great genius who is almost simple minded when it comes to life, may possess great knowledge, but he does not have wisdom.

Whether it as a great physicist or Torah Sage, he must focus on the wisdom he has acquired and apply it beyond his area of expertise.

Whenever we complete a course of learning, we must not only celebrate the information we have gained; we must also reflect on what have we learned about wisdom.

I am in middle of teaching a course on Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart – of Rabbeinu Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. It is a book of answers to all sorts of questions asked by people on a spiritual quest. The answers are fundamental. However, there are many lessons on how to ask questions and how to respect the voice of our soul that speaks to us through our questions. We review the answers and information, and we also review what we learn about listening to our souls and the process of searching for answers.

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