What is Chochman (wisdom) ?
First of all, Chochman is to be distinguished from be Binah (understand) and Da'at (knowledge). It is the flash of understanding that one has. For example, lets say you are learning a piece of gemara and are having trouble understanding it. You sit with yourself trying to get it, and then.... eureka, you get it. That flash is considered chochman. It is a point, yet undefined, that contains within the understanding of something. ONce you start to develop it and tell it to your study partner, you are utilizing your Binah, understanding. Binah takes ones wisdom and fleshes it out. So the moment of insight is wisdom, which can be explained in a few minutes using your binah.
Da'at, knowledge is NOT knowing a lot of information. It is the integration of the wisdom and binah into one's being. This requires focusing on a certain subject to an extent that it begins to Effect one's Affect.
So while books are necessary for wisdom, torah books are the platform in which one can attain wisdom. To attain wisdom requires a moment of contemplative silence/reflection with the material.
The mishnah in pirket avot (3:17) says:
"Rabbi Akiva said: Jesting and lightheadedness accustom a person to immorality. The oral transmission is a protective fence for the Torah. Tithes are a protective fence for wealth. Vows are a protective fence for abstinence. A protective fence for wisdom is silence."
Note the different phrasing with respect to wisdom and silence. To be consistent, it should have said, silence is a fence for wisdom. The midrash Shmuel says that the reason for the different wording is to teach us that in the case of wisdom, silence is the only means, where as the other things have other protective fences to help attain them.
It seems that wisdom and torah can be completely separated from one another. For instance, our sages teach us:"he who tells you that there is wisdom amongst the nations, believe him; but if he tells you there is torah amongst the nations, don't believe him.
Similarly, chapter 6 of Pirket Avot is dedicated towards teaching a person the value of torah and how to attain it. In describing the 48 ways of acquiring torah (6:5), the mishnah does NOT state that silence or wisdom is means of obtaining Torah. In other words, one can obtain torah but not necessarily be wise.
So the question remains, what would we prefer, to be wise or to attain torah? Which one is greater?
Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, who spent many years in a Siberian gulag, tells how he learned a great lesson from a tightrope walker who was also in prison there. The Rabbi asked the tightrope walker about the secret to his art: “What does one need to master balance? Stamina? Concentration?”
The tightrope walker’s answer surprised him: “the secret is always keeping your destination in focus. You have to keep your eye on the other end of the rope. But you know what the hardest part is?”
“When you get to the middle?” the Rabbi ventured.
“No,” said the tightrope walker, “it is when you make the turn, because for a fraction of a second you lose sight of your destination. When you don't have sight of your destination that is when you're most likely to fall.”
Life is something like a tightrope, to navigate it successfully you must have your destination in focus, you must know where you are going. When the time comes to make a turn and for a moment you cannot see where you're headed you have to have your destination in your mind's eye,
The ultimate destination, the final goal of all human efforts throughout history, as described by our prophets, is a time when “the entire land will be filled with knowledge of Hashem.” This is the entire purpose of geula, redemption, and the purpose of mashiach: so we can gain knowledge and clarity of existence and our purpose and ultimately lead the world to greater refinement. The Jewish people have always kept their eye on this destination and it has given them the power and freedom to forge your head despite all difficulties. Whether through breaking the glass under a chuppah, or singing “Ani Ma’amin” (I believe in the coming of the Mashiach), or keeping Jerusalem in one’s heart and mind, we have held on to the belief that, the world is not yet perfected and, yes, ultimate peace is possible.
Geula, is not a destination you can see by looking in front of you, you can only see it by looking inside of you.; Real focus is not physical it is transcendental; real focus is your relationship with your divine mission. If it is well developed you can go past the moments of danger and keep moving with confidence even through moments of the greatest fear and darkness.
“The entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be scared”. So said Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and by keeping our mission in mind, both one’s personal and our collective mission, we can truly cross that bridge without fear.
In this light, it is a perfect time and opportunity (as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah), to contemplate:
- am I aware of my own mission in life?
- If so, am I living it or allowing things to distract me from it?
- If not, am I thinking about it or speaking to a mentor who can help me gain clarity on it?
The Jewish month of Elul is a perfect time for this. Elul is called the Month of Teshuva. Teshuva means “return”. We return (reconnect) to our divine essence and ultimately all of existence to its appropriate place. The experience of this is to live from a place of aliveness where one feels they are manifesting themselves, rather than trudging through life.
We should have a meaningful Elul for the quality of this month and the preparation for Rosh Hashanah dictates the significance and meaning that we will have once the holiday comes.
Shabbat Shalom U’mevorach