Tag Archives: wise

Wisdom and Doubt

When someone is angry at you, organize wisely what you wish to say. Begin speaking in a manner that is likely to have a calming effect. For example, begin by admitting your own mistakes. When you start off in an appeasing manner, the person will pay more attention to your words, and this will prevent him from causing you harm or loss.

We find an example when Abigail successfully calmed down King David, who was furious at her husband (see Shmuel 1, 25:25). She began by admitting that she herself had made an error. Only then did she present her arguments to King David. When you concede that you are wrong, others calm down.

When someone is angry at you, and you start out by either blaming him or denying it, you will usually increase the person’s anger. If you want someone’s anger to escalate, the best way to do this is to either say: “It’s your fault, not mine.”

It takes courage to admit your own mistakes. Even if you are only responsible in a small way, it is still best to start off by saying something like, “Yes, I could (or should) have done differently. I’m sorry for any pain or inconvenience I have caused you.”

This will put the other person in a calmer state, and he will then be much more likely to listen to what you have to say in your own defense.

-see Ralbag – Shaar hapiyus, no.1;
Rabbi Pliskin – Consulting the Wise, pp.58-9
quoted from Aish.com

Just a few days ago I quoted from another Aish.com missive that said:

Only when a person has peace of mind can he really feel love for humanity. Lack of peace of mind leads to animosity towards others. Peace of mind leads to love.

The reality of the situation is that if we wait until we’ve achieved perfect peace of mind before we start interacting with other people, we’ll never interact with other people. Since that’s impossible for most of us, we’ll need another strategy.

What if you’re wrong? Ever thought about that? I think about it all the time, but then again, that’s just me. Maybe I’m insecure or something.

Or something.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell
British philosopher, logician, and mathematician

I hope that means that I’m on the path to wisdom, but I’d hate to delude myself or elevate myself beyond my true position. But I think it was Socrates who said, “the beginning of wisdom is the discovery of one’s own ignorance,” so I suppose I’m in good company whenever I answer a question with the statement, “I don’t know.”

That’s not the same as giving an answer and then discovering that you’re wrong, but it’s related. In the world of the Internet, everybody seems to feel like they must have the “right” answer to all questions and debates all of the time. In that sense, I must be some sort of anomaly for having more questions than answers.

But back to the topic at hand. What if you’re wrong?

I’ve already been wrong in public including in the blogosphere, so it doesn’t bother me so much anymore, but I get the impression that it just terrifies others who blog, comment, or otherwise express their opinion online. Some people can’t admit it. Some people would feel like a failure to admit they made a mistake.

I suspect that it’s closer to the truth to say that people already feel like failures or carry around a great burden of hurt and pain when they find themselves in a position where they can’t back down, they won’t recant, and they refuse to admit that they could have made a mistake and overstated their position.

That’s horrible.

That means you are totally locked out of being able to enter into a conversation with someone you’ve hurt or offended and to, as Abigail did, calm down that person and then try to make amends. It also means that even if the other person were wrong as well in some way, you’ll never get to the point in the discussion where they’ll feel free to hear your gentle criticisms. That’s because you’ll still be too busy defending your own “rightness” and challenging the other person’s opinion.

More’s the pity.

You don’t have to possess peace of mind, and you don’t have to even feel compassionate love for humanity to begin to fix this. You do however, need to be able to make claim to just a small bit of wisdom and humility. The Proverbs we find in the Bible are replete with examples of those who disdained wisdom in favor of their own self-directed council.

Those people, no matter how certain of themselves they may seem, are very often completely insecure and uncertain and indeed, not asserting knowledge and facts, but desperately defending an increasingly disintegrating ego. The other day, I called such a person a nudnik. Today, I’m saying that like any hurt and injured human being, they should be pitied and if possible, they should be helped.

Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right
Though I tried not to hurt you
Though I tried
But I guess that’s why they say

Every rose has it’s thorn
Just like every night has it’s dawn
Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song
Every rose has it’s thorn

-lyrics by Bret Michaels
from the ballad Every Rose Has It’s Thorn (1988)
Recorded by Poison

But even if we are injured, hurting, humiliated, and emotionally bleeding, we can’t always wait for all that to stop before trying to right what is wrong. If we still possess a modicum of mercy, grace, and justice within us and we don’t want to live long enough to see ourselves become the villain, then we have to take who we are and do the best we can with ourselves. No one enters life a perfect person and no one leaves life perfect either. Sure, during whatever lifetime we are granted, we are given many opportunities to learn, to become wise, and to elevate ourselves spiritually, but in the end, we are who we are. We take all of that and do our best with it and with us.

If it is permissible, we must use it for good. If it can be elevated, we cannot leave it behind.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Leave Nothing Behind”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you can be a better person today than you were yesterday, then you must make every effort to be that better person. Better to admit that you can be wrong and risk looking foolish than to always demand that you’re right and prove you really are unwise.

Just ask yourself, “what does God want me to do in order to honor Him and to avoid disgracing myself?”

Through love, all pain will turn to medicine. –Rumi

Please don’t destroy yourself. Please don’t try to destroy others because you feel they hurt or maligned you. God is the author of love and life, not hate and destruction.

God is in the Simple Places

If we were truly humble, we would not be forever searching higher paths on the mountain tops. We would look in the simple places, in the practical things that need to be done.

True, these are places in a world of falsehood. If the world only had a little more light, none of this would be necessary.

But the soul that knows its place knows that the great and lofty G-d is not found at the summit of mountains, but in the simple act of lending a hand or a comforting word in a world of falsehood and delusions.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Path of the Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11 (ESV)

The New Testament is full of lessons on and examples of humility. The idea is that we put God first in our minds and our hearts and our actions, and not seek to exalt ourselves. And yet as we see from the lesson of the Rebbe, even in seeking God on the highest mountain tops and even into the highest Heavens, we are not truly humble.

I suppose there’s a dichotomy involved. We have our feet on earth, yet our eyes gaze upward toward Heaven. The Divine spark within us is trapped in earthly flesh but seeks to return to its fiery Source. How can we really be humble once we realize that we have been made in the Holy image of the Creator of the Universe?

This can be a problem.

The problem is that we have a tendency to elevate ourselves in relation to those around us who do not realize that they too have been created in God’s image. God peppered the Bible with many lessons on remaining humble, and yet we seem to ignore them all.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)

Human nature tells us not to pass up an opportunity because it may never come again. If there is an open seat in a place of honor, our impulse is to sit in it. Sure, we know the parable I just quoted above, but this is real life, right? Parables and religious lessons are fine, but how much do they really apply to the day to day world? If we wait for God to raise us up to a place of honor, it may never happen.

And if it doesn’t, so what?

I mean, did God really say that you have to be so important or exalted among your peers?

Let’s change our point of view a bit.

The Alter Rebbe now explains that there are also two general levels in the love of G-d. The higher level is called ahavah rabbah (“great love”). It is a gift from above, granted to an individual after he has attained the level of yirah ila‘ah. This love is so lofty that one cannot hope to achieve it unaided.

The second and lower level of love is attained by contemplating G-d’s greatness. It is called ahavat olam (“eternal love,” and more literally, “love of the world”), because it emanates from one’s comprehension of the world, i.e., from one’s appreciation of the G-dly life-force that animates the world.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 43
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg
and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

But for most of us, there’s something that has to happen before we can learn to love God in any capacity.

It has previously been noted that the higher level of love can come about only after one’s fear of G-d is total.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 43

AweFear. In Jewish mysticism, there is a lower level of fear (yirah tata’ah) that we experience when we realize the truly awesome nature of God and understand the terrible consequences we have earned for our sins. It is said that fear comes before wisdom. It is also said that wisdom comes before fear of God, which seems a contradiction, but it’s not. Yirah tata’ah comes before wisdom, but there is a different sort of fear and awe that requires us to already be wise.

The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 43

But what does this have to do with humility and setting aside our natural human inclination to seek honors for ourselves, even as we say we seek to honor God? How can we truly value and even desire humility? There are two ways.

The first is to make ourselves refrain from taking the seat of honor out of fear that, if we are discovered not to belong there, we will be publicly shamed and removed from the banquet. This is sufficient I suppose, but hardly desirable. How can we serve God out of a sort of “peer pressure” to conform, even as everything else we are in our hearts and minds screams the opposite?

The second way is to wisely realize that if we love God, we will obey Him and that His desires are always best for us, regardless of how we may or may not be seen in the eyes of people around us. The seat of humility may not be in the spotlight, but it might be very comfortable and even very instructive.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…

-from Pirkei Avot 4:1

Most secular people avoid a life of holiness, in part, because they fear that their own needs and desires will be completely dismissed, and that they’ll be compelled to live a life of self-denial and frankly, boredom. However I’m sure that you, as a true person of faith, if you took the time to review the events of your life and the gifts of God, would realize that the benefits, even in a temporal sense, far outweigh the sacrifices. You may never become rich or famous or exalted in seats of honor in this life, but if you first learned to fear God and then to love Him, you know that what God has provided has been much more than sufficient.

God is sitting among those who are farthest from the seats of honor and He can be found in the simple places.