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Vayeshev(Genesis 37-40)

Wisdom Is A Verb

"Through me, Kings rule." (Proverbs 8:15)

Not money. Not power. Not family.

King Solomon is talking about wisdom. In the very short term, money, guns, family and friends will get you ahead. But in the long haul of life, wisdom rules.

You may have heard the saying, "A wise man learns from his own mistakes." I must admit, I grew up believing in such things. You can't imagine the cosmic shock I received when I realized that, in Judaism, we call that the definition of a fool. In Ethics of the Fathers, "Ben Zoma says, Who is a wise? Someone who learns from everyone...." (4:1)

"Everyone" does not mean that everyone has something you can learn from; it means what's important is not who says something, but what he is saying. It means that living with a mistake is worse than realizing your mistake.

In other words, when someone wants to tell you something, don't worry about who he is or the way he says it. If you get caught up in those things then you just don't get it.

If you are going to get anywhere in life you need to know your mistakes, and in at least this one area, just about anyone can help you. Think about it. Don't you see the mistakes of the people around you? Now, if they could see their mistakes, see how counter-productive they are, in the same way you do, for sure they would stop.

So what's the problem? They don't see the mistakes the way you see them. They see them the way they see them, and not only that, they don't want to listen to you telling them.

Sounds pretty stupid doesn't it?

Well, look in the mirror; that's us! Everyone around us sees our mistakes, too, and if we would listen, oh, how much better life would be.

Simply put, listen to anyone who wants to teach you something. Looking stupid is so much better than being stupid. That is what Ben Zoma is trying to teach us. It's much better to know you built a boat that won't float before you set sail than after.

 

* * *

 

IN THE WORLD OF THE BLIND, THE ONE-EYED MAN IS KING

Yehuda quite possibly reaches the bottom of the barrel in embarrassing moments. I just can't imagine facing an accused prostitute, accused by me that is, and realizing "she is more righteous than me." (Yehuda's words, Genesis 39:27).

Yehuda didn't have to admit his guilt. It was quite clear from Tamar's remarks that she was not going to publicly name him. But Yehuda knew that even though in his eyes she was a disgrace, he also knew he had to learn from her - from everyone - and it is so much better to learn from your mistakes than to keep repeating them.

If the world produced people who never sinned, great. But as King Solomon (Koheles 7:20) pointed out, "There is no one in the world who does not sin." In the world we have, not making mistakes is not an option, but learning from your mistakes is. Rare as it may be.

Rare, but not difficult. We actually live this way in the area of health. When it comes to an infection, malady, sore, rash or any number of bothersome complaints, we will listen to just about anyone.

When it comes to health, we are naturally wise. Be wise when it comes to life.

It is no accident therefore, that from Yehuda come the kings of Israel.

 

* * *

 

BEN ZOMA

"Learn from all men" means, don't let your insecurities stop you from listening. Wisdom is more important than that. The key is not how much you know but how much you desire to know.

A wise man learns from the mistakes of others, a fool has to learn from his own mistakes, and insanity is even worse: The insane don't even do that! A crazy person is someone who keeps making the same mistakes over and over expecting different results.

People are naturally wise in health, as I mentioned above. Many are natural fools when it comes to business or parenting: they will learn, but only from their own mistakes. "Mind your own business" is a reflection of that sentiment, as is "Where did I go wrong?" when it comes to parenting.

Obviously, you would do much better in business if you tried to be wise. Your children would appreciate the upgrade, too. Unfortunately though, many would rather learn from their own mistakes than get it right the first time.

But being crazy, that's really crazy! But, unfortunately, not uncommon. How many people do we see marry two or three times or more, and after each one remark, "Why can't I seem to make it work?" Or words to that effect. Don't try telling him; he wasn't really asking. He isn't willing to learn, even from his own mistakes. He just wants a different result!

Where else are people crazy? The meaning of life.

A person's beliefs are almost sacrosanct and cannot be challenged no matter how absurd. And absurd it is. Nothing impacts the nature of our lives more than the values that shape them. But not challenging those values, even when they clearly are not working, is the ultimate in crazy.

So, if you want my advice, listen to the advice of others. It's a lot better than being crazy.

 

* * *

 

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: Who was the last person to give you a piece of advice or criticism?

Question 2: If you rejected it, rethink it.

Question 3: Ask three people to give you some advice or criticism.

Published: December 9, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 9

(6) Avi, November 18, 2013 11:54 AM

I disagree

I think about this article a lot. I first read it a couple of years ago. I really enjoy reading the aish commentaries on the parishad each week but the idea if the fool being the one who learns from his mistakes still troubles me. See, I disagree. I think the fool is the one who instead goes out of their way to learn from other people's mistakes. Because I feel making mistakes is living. It's the beauty of life. Since being a student of the 48 ways I've been writing a journal every day for the years since first digesting way 4 understanding of the heart, to take an accounting on who I am how my day went and what I learned. And much of what I record in this journal are mistakes. Often these mistakes are painful especially after seeing how they can be avoided. But to be clear for pretty much all of these lessons I am happy I learned them and I made the mistakes and I went through it INSTEAD of someone telling me how to avoid them ahead of time OR reading about it. Call me the fool, but I love making mistakes. And I see personally making mistakes and learning from them as living well more than hearing or reading about how to avoid mistakes from others.

Anonymous, November 19, 2013 9:43 AM

You totally agree with what he's saying, it's semantics.

What you are recognizing is human nature. Human nature insists that people will first make a mistake and only THEN address learning from it. On the whole. It would be way too mature to expect someone to first collect all the advice and then move forward, without first tripping up themselves, and THEn seeking the proper advice.

I do know some people, from a young age, with surprising emotional maturity and ability to witness other people and learn from their mistakes so they don't make the same. But it's a rare quality.

Anyway, have a fantastic day and take care.

Avi, January 26, 2014 3:51 PM

sloth

Rabbi Baars, I feel I have got closure on this after months of it lingering in the inner sanctums of my mind. For mistakes of sloth the fool makes his own mistakes when he could learn from those of others. That works.

For the passionate individualist walking the path one less travelled within me I now carry on making inevitable mistakes learning from them and enjoying the process as well as learning from other's mistakes where and when possible.

(5) R, January 27, 2011 1:22 AM

Correction?

Great article. It would seem that the quote from King David is actually from King Solomon in Koheles 7:20. Perhaps a similar expression in Psalms would be found 143:2. (This is intended neither as criticism or advice - it is merely to advance wisdom :-)

Rabbi Baars, December 13, 2011 12:18 AM

I stand corrected

thank you much appreciated!

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