Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Learning from all people, the sign of a wise person

This line. ''Who is wise, he who learns from all men" comes from the Jewish work Pirkei Avot, also known as the Sayings of the Father, one of the most beloved tractates within the Mishnah.

There is probably no phrase that I love more and feel is more important for today. It seems like we have so many experts, so many people wanting to tell us what to do and how to be. But none of these experts seem ready to listen to the other. And for myself I know that if I can keep this phrase at the tip of my consciousness, my day-to-day world has a whole new light, a new glimmer of significance and importance.

Here is how the Rav, Rabbi Jospeh Soloveitchik uses this line in one of his discussions of the dual nature of the human personality

“God implanted two powers within man. On the one hand, he gave man the power to be a creator of worlds, the power to be master and instructor, to teach, to influence another and change his personality and fashion it anew. This is an incredibly marvelous power. . .

“On the other hand, God endowed man with a second power, the ability to be a student, to learn from someone else: the ability to e influenced and to give oneself up totally, like clay in the hands of the potter, for receiving a form, ‘Male and female created He them’ (Gen. 1:27), activity and passivity, creation and reception, both are rooted with the human personality.

“It is forbidden for a man, be he the greatest of the great, to think that he is ever the master and never the disciple, that he knows all and has nothing to learn from another. The rule, ‘Who is wise, he who learns from all men’ (Avoth 4:1) is a cardinal principle in Judaism. One must never forget that one can learn from others in the same measure that one is able to impart to others.

“Even the smallest of the small, however his spiritual endowment is limited. and his knowledge, no matter how scanty, also has powers of the soul, good qualities and treasure-houses of feeling that he is able to share with others and influence them. Every human being is both master and disciple, influencer and influenced, receiver and bestower. ‘Male and female created He them’” (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Rav Speaks),

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