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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Does the Torah Make You Wise?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on October 6, 2016)
Topics: Torah, Sefer Devarim, Shoftim, Halakha & Modernity, Belief & Observance, Halakhic Methodology

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at

It may seem odd to us that people would ask a rabbi who to marry or vote for, but the Torah, in fact, does have reference to all aspects of our lives and the experts in Torah may well have wisdom and advice to impart in all areas of our lives. This is contingent on the level of sensitivity and self awareness of said experts. Their sensitivity to the precise situation at hand, their knowledge of their own levels of training and expertise with regard to this situation and their understanding of the person in front of them will determine the wisdom of their use of Torah. How well does Torah prepare you to understand and give advice in the Modern world?

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

כִּ֣י יִפָּלֵא֩ מִמְּךָ֨ דָבָ֜ר לַמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט בֵּֽין־דָּ֨ם ׀ לְדָ֜ם בֵּֽין־דִּ֣ין לְדִ֗ין וּבֵ֥ין נֶ֙גַע֙ לָנֶ֔גַע דִּבְרֵ֥י רִיבֹ֖ת בִּשְׁעָרֶ֑יךָ וְקַמְתָּ֣ וְעָלִ֔יתָ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְחַ֛ר יקוק אֱלֹקֶ֖יךָ בּֽוֹ׃ וּבָאתָ֗ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם וְאֶל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ֙ וְהִגִּ֣ידוּ לְךָ֔ אֵ֖ת דְּבַ֥ר הַמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃ וְעָשִׂ֗יתָ עַל־פִּ֤י הַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יַגִּ֣ידֽוּ לְךָ֔ מִן־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַה֔וּא אֲשֶׁ֖ר יִבְחַ֣ר יקוק וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֣ לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יוֹרֽוּךָ׃ עַל־פִּ֨י הַתּוֹרָ֜ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יוֹר֗וּךָ וְעַל־הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט אֲשֶׁר־יֹאמְר֥וּ לְךָ֖ תַּעֲשֶׂ֑ה לֹ֣א תָס֗וּר מִן־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־יַגִּ֥ידֽוּ לְךָ֖ יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאל׃ וְהָאִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה בְזָד֗וֹן לְבִלְתִּ֨י שְׁמֹ֤עַ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵן֙ הָעֹמֵ֞ד לְשָׁ֤רֶת שָׁם֙ אֶת־יקוק אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ א֖וֹ אֶל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֑ט וּמֵת֙ הָאִ֣ישׁ הַה֔וּא וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וְכָל־הָעָ֖ם יִשְׁמְע֣וּ וְיִרָ֑אוּ וְלֹ֥א יְזִיד֖וּן עֽוֹד׃If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault—matters of dispute in your courts—you shall promptly repair to the place that the LORD your God will have chosen, and appear before the levitical priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place that the LORD chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there the LORD your God, or the magistrate, that man shall die. Thus you will sweep out evil from Israel: all the people will hear and be afraid and will not act presumptuously again.

Malachi 2:1-9

וְעַתָּ֗ה אֲלֵיכֶ֛ם הַמִּצְוָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את הַכֹּהֲנִֽים…וִֽידַעְתֶּ֕ם כִּ֚י שִׁלַּ֣חְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את לִֽהְי֤וֹת בְּרִיתִי֙ אֶת־לֵוִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יקוק צְבָאֽוֹת׃ בְּרִיתִ֣י ׀ הָיְתָ֣ה אִתּ֗וֹ הַֽחַיִּים֙ וְהַ֨שָּׁל֔וֹם וָאֶתְּנֵֽם־ל֥וֹ מוֹרָ֖א וַיִּֽירָאֵ֑נִי וּמִפְּנֵ֥י שְׁמִ֖י נִחַ֥ת הֽוּא׃ תּוֹרַ֤ת אֱמֶת֙ הָיְתָ֣ה בְּפִ֔יהוּ וְעַוְלָ֖ה לֹא־נִמְצָ֣א בִשְׂפָתָ֑יו בְּשָׁל֤וֹם וּבְמִישׁוֹר֙ הָלַ֣ךְ אִתִּ֔י וְרַבִּ֖ים הֵשִׁ֥יב מֵעָוֺֽן׃ כִּֽי־שִׂפְתֵ֤י כֹהֵן֙ יִשְׁמְרוּ־דַ֔עַת וְתוֹרָ֖ה יְבַקְשׁ֣וּ מִפִּ֑יהוּ כִּ֛י מַלְאַ֥ךְ יְהוָֽה־צְבָא֖וֹת הֽוּא׃ וְאַתֶּם֙ סַרְתֶּ֣ם מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ הִכְשַׁלְתֶּ֥ם רַבִּ֖ים בַּתּוֹרָ֑ה שִֽׁחַתֶּם֙ בְּרִ֣ית הַלֵּוִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יקוק צְבָאֽוֹת׃ וְגַם־אֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּי אֶתְכֶ֛ם נִבְזִ֥ים וּשְׁפָלִ֖ים לְכָל־הָעָ֑ם כְּפִ֗י אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽינְכֶם֙ שֹׁמְרִ֣ים אֶת־דְּרָכַ֔י וְנֹשְׂאִ֥ים פָּנִ֖ים בַּתּוֹרָֽה׃ And now, O priests, this charge is for you…Know, then, that I have sent this charge to you that My covenant with Levi may endure—said the LORD of Hosts. I had with him a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave to him, and of reverence, which he showed Me. For he stood in awe of My name. Proper rulings were in his mouth, And nothing perverse was on his lips; He served Me with complete loyalty And held the many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest guard knowledge, And men seek rulings from his mouth; For he is a messenger of the LORD of Hosts. But you have turned away from that course: You have made the many stumble through your rulings; you have corrupted the covenant of the Levites—said the LORD of Hosts. And I, in turn, have made you despicable and vile in the eyes of all the people, because you disregard My ways and show partiality in your rulings.


  1. According to the Torah, who are the people you should approach when you have a social difficulty? Are these people necessarily trained to deal with your problems?
  2. What training does Malachi think is sufficient for the job of “Messenger of the Lord of Hosts”? In the modern day and age, does this sound sufficient?

Sifre Devarim, ch. 154, Ed. Finkelstein, Jewish Theological Seminary, 1993. p. 207

ימין ושמאל, אפילו מראים בעיניך על ימין שהוא שמאל ועל שמאל שהוא ימין שמע להם.Right or left, even if they show you to your own eyes that right is left and left is right, listen to them.


  1. According to this Midrash, to what extent should we obey the Torah authorities? Why should that be?

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, The Chofetz Chayim on the Torah, Benei Brak, ed. Shemuel Grainiman, p. 30, note 5

הוא היה אומר, מי שדעתו דעת תורה יכול לפתור כל בעיות העולם ככלל ובפרט, אלא שתנאי הותנה שהדעת תורה תהיה צלולה בלי איזו פניה או נטייה כלשהי, ואם יש לך אדם שדעת תורה לו, אלא שמעורבת אפילו עם דעות אחרות מן השוק או מן העיתונות הרי דעת תורה עכורה היא מעורבת עם פסולת, ואין ביכולתה לרדת לסוף העניין.He used to say, someone whose mind is the mind of the Torah can solve any problem in the world in general and specific cases. However, that is under the condition that the mind of the Torah is entirely pure without any turning or leaning. But if you meet a person who has the mind of the Torah but it is mixed with other ideas from the marketplace or from journalism, this is the mind of the Torah clouded, mixed with chaff, and it will not be able to descend to the bottom of things.


  1. What does the Chofetz Chayim think is the proper training for problem solving in the world? What will spoil that training?
  2. Does the Chofetz Chayim actually think there are people in the world who can perform the feat he describes? Or is he simply describing the maximum potential of immersion in Torah?

Mikhtav MeEliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler,pg. 59

…מזה יוצא לנו גדר אמונת חכמים. מי שרוצה להאמין להם יוכל להשתמש בראייתם הבהירה והיו לו לעיניים. מדבריהם נוכל לקבל הישרה בהשקפות העולם ובהנהגה מעשית. ולא עוד, אלא במידה שאנו נעשים תלמידיהם ומתאמצים להבין דרכי-המחשבה שלהם, באותה מידה גם דעתנו מקבלת יישור. ולפיכך, גדולי דורותינו אשר עסק חייהם להמשיך כתלמידים נאמנים בדרכי מחשבתם של חז”ל זוכים לישרות זו במידה עצומה עד שחוות דעתם, אפילו בדברים שאין להם מקור מפורש וגם סתם עצות במילי-דעלמא, ברורה ואמיתית. “כאשר ישאל איש בדבר האלקים” (שמואל ב, טז) כמו שרואים בעינינו, תודה-לאל, גם בדור הזה……From this we learn the nature of trust in the sages. One who wishes to trust in them is able to use their clear vision and they will be their eyes. From their words, we can receive clarity in our world view and in our actions. And not only that, but to the degree that we become their students and attempt to understand their ways of thought, to that degree, our own minds receive clarity. Therefore, the great ones of our generation, whose life work is to continue as faithful students in the ways of thought of the Sages, merit this clarity to a terrific extent to the point that their opinions on things that have no source or even in day to day things are correct and true. “As a person goes to ask God,” as we see with our own eyes, thank God, even in this generation…

Mikhtav MeEliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, vol. 1, pp. 75-77

מכתב בדבר אמונת חכמים…מתוך דברי כבודו אני רואה שסובר, כי כל גדולי ישראל אשר מעשיהם היו לש”ש, וגאוני השכל ואדירי הצדקות גם יחד, אשר בל”ס בכל משפטיהם ופסקי דיניהם היה יקוק נצב בעדת א’…כולם יטעו טעות גמורה – ח”ו. לא תהא כזאת בישראל. אסור לשמוע דברים כאלה, וכש”כ לאמרם…
…מסתמא יודע כבודו את ד’ ר’ אלחנן שליט”א מה שמספר מגבורות רבו הח”ח זצ”ל ידע נא כבודו, כי רבנו אלחנן גדול מאד הוא ממש, וגם את דבריו אין לדחות וכש”כ לבטל, אפי’ מפני מה שאנו הפעוטים חושבים שנראה בחוש. וכבר אמרו לנו חז”ל לשמוע לדברי חכמים אפי’ אומרים לנו על שמאל שהיא ימין, ולא לומר ח”ו, שבודאי טעו מפני שאנכי הקטנטן רואה בחוש את טעותם, אלא החוש שלי בטל ומבוטל הוא כעפרא דארעא כלפי בהירות שכלם וסייעתא דשמיא שלהם…קרוב הוא אשר מה שידמו שהוא חוש אינו אלא דמיון ורעות רוח. זוהי דעת התורה בגדר אמונת חכמים…
חסרון הכרת ההתבטלות לעומת רבותינו – זהו שורש כל חטאת ותחילת כל חורבן ר”ל, וכל הזכיות לא ישוו לעומת שורש הכל, שהיא אמונת חכמים…
A letter on the matter of trust in the Sages:
From Your Honor’s words, I see that you think that all of the great ones of Israel, whose deeds were for the sake of heaven, and geniuses of mind and great in righteousness all together, who, without a doubt, in all of their judgments and legal decisions “god was present in the midst of the judges”…they all were totally mistaken (God forbid). This cannot be in Israel. It is forbidden to hear such things and all the more so to say them…
I assume that Your Honor knows the words of Rabbi Elchonon, what he said from the powers of his teacher the Chofetz Chayim. Your Honor should know that Rabbi Elchonon himself was very great and you cannot push aside even his own words, and certainly not cancel them, even before what we children think is apparent to the intuition. And our Sages have already told us to listen to the Sages even if they tell us that left is right, and not to say (God forbid) that they certainly made an error since I, the tiny one, see with my intuition their mistake. Rather, my intuition is nullified like dust of the earth before the clarity of their intelligence and their Heavenly support…It may be said that what appears to be intuitive is nothing but imagination and pursuit of wind. This is the position of the Torah with regard to trust in the Sages…
Lack of recognition of our self-nullification before our Rabbis – this is the root of all sin and the beginning of all destruction (God protect us). And all of the merits cannot be compared with the root of everything which is trust in the Sages…


  1. According to Rav Dessler, what is the benefit of asking a torah scholar how to vote, who to marry, or whether to take a new job? Why should we listen to them when they tell us what to do without appending a source? Does this follow from the claim of the Chofetz Chayim above?
  2. How do you feel about this claim? Do you accept the idea that Torah gives people unique insight into the world? If so, why wouldn’t the greatest Torah scholars have the greatest insight? If not, what is the point of studying Torah at all?

Pirkei Avot 6:6

גְּדוֹלָה תוֹרָה יוֹתֵר מִן הַכְּהֻנָּה וּמִן הַמַּלְכוּת, שֶׁהַמַּלְכוּת נִקְנֵית בִּשְׁלֹשִׁים מַעֲלוֹת, וְהַכְּהֻנָּה בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבַּע, וְהַתּוֹרָה נִקְנֵית בְּאַרְבָּעִים וּשְׁמֹנָה דְבָרִים. וְאֵלוּ הֵן, בְּתַלְמוּד, בִּשְׁמִיעַת הָאֹזֶן, בַּעֲרִיכַת שְׂפָתַיִם, בְּבִינַת הַלֵּב, בְּשִׂכְלוּת הַלֵּב, בְּאֵימָה, בְּיִרְאָה, בַּעֲנָוָה, בְּשִׂמְחָה, בְּטָהֳרָה, בְּשִׁמּוּשׁ חֲכָמִים, בְּדִקְדּוּק חֲבֵרִים, וּבְפִלְפּוּל הַתַּלְמִידִים, בְּיִשּׁוּב, בַּמִּקְרָא, בַּמִּשְׁנָה, בְּמִעוּט סְחוֹרָה, בְּמִעוּט דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, בְּמִעוּט תַּעֲנוּג, בְּמִעוּט שֵׁינָה, בְּמִעוּט שִׂיחָה, בְּמִעוּט שְׂחוֹק, בְּאֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, בְּלֵב טוֹב, בֶּאֱמוּנַת חֲכָמִים, וּבְקַבָּלַת הַיִּסּוּרִין, הַמַּכִּיר אֶת מְקוֹמוֹ, וְהַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ, וְהָעוֹשֶׂה סְיָג לִדְבָרָיו, וְאֵינוֹ מַחֲזִיק טוֹבָה לְעַצְמוֹ, אָהוּב, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַמָּקוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַצְּדָקוֹת, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַמֵּישָׁרִים, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַתּוֹכָחוֹת, מִתְרַחֵק מִן הַכָּבוֹד, וְלֹא מֵגִיס לִבּוֹ בְתַלְמוּדוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ שָׂמֵחַ בְּהוֹרָאָה, נוֹשֵׂא בְעֹל עִם חֲבֵרוֹ, מַכְרִיעוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת, מַעֲמִידוֹ עַל הָאֱמֶת, וּמַעֲמִידוֹ עַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, מִתְיַשֵּׁב לִבּוֹ בְתַלְמוּדוֹ, שׁוֹאֵל וּמֵשִׁיב, שׁוֹמֵעַ וּמוֹסִיף, הַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לְלַמֵּד וְהַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לַעֲשׂוֹת, הַמַּחְכִּים אֶת רַבּוֹ, וְהַמְכַוֵּן אֶת שְׁמוּעָתוֹ, וְהָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ…Greater is Torah than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is obtained with thirty levels, and priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is obtained with forty-eight things. And these are them: learning, listening of the ear, preparation of speech, understanding of the heart, intellect of the heart, reverence, awe, humility, happiness, purity, service of sages, care of friends, debate of the students, clarification, scripture, mishnah, minimization of merchandise, minimization of worldly occupation, minimization of pleasure, minimization of sleep, minimization of conversation, minimization of laughter, patience, generosity, trust of the sages, acceptance of afflictions, knowing one’s place, gladness in one’s portion, erection of a fence to one’s words, lack of self-aggrandizement, lovableness, love of God, love of the creatures, love of the righteous, love of the upright, love of rebuke, distancing from honor, lack of arrogance in learning, lack of joy in issuing legal decisions, lifting of a burden with one’s friend, judging him with the benefit of the doubt, placing him with the truth, placing him with peace, deliberation in study, questioning and responding, hearing and adding, learning in order to teach and learning in order to act, making one’s master wiser, focusing one’s teaching, saying [a thing] in the name of the one who said it…


  1. Are all of the things mentioned here necessary to acquire the Torah or could a combination of any number of them be sufficient?
  2. What is the meaning of “trust in the sages” as it appears here?How does it relate to the sources above?

Tanya, Letter of Holiness 22:1-4

אהוביי אחיי ורעיי מאהבה מסותרת תוכחת מגולה לכו נא ונוכחה
זכרו ימות עולם בינו שנות דור ודור ההיתה כזאת מימות עולם ואיה איפוא מצאתם מנהג זה באחד מכל ספרי חכמי ישראל הראשונים והאחרונים להיות מנהג ותיקון לשאול בעצה גשמיות כדת מה לעשות בעניני העולם הגשמי אף לגדולי חכמי ישראל הראשונים כתנאים ואמוראים אשר כל רז לא אנס להו ונהירין להון שבילין דרקיע כ”א לנביאים ממש אשר היו לפנים בישראל כשמואל הרואה אשר הלך אליו שאול לדרוש יקוק על דבר האתונות שנאבדו לאביו
כי באמת כל עניני אדם לבד מדברי תורה וי”ש אינם מושגים רק בנבואה ולא לחכמים לחם …
אך האמת אגיד לשומעים לי כי אהבה מקלקלת השורה והנה היא כסות עינים שלא לראות האמת מרוב אהבתם לחיי הגוף לש”ש לעבוד בו את יקוק ברשפי אש ושלהבת גדולה מאהבת נפשם את יקוק וע”כ היטב חרה להם בצער הגוף ח”ו יקוק ירחם ואין יכולין לקבל כלל עד שמעבירם על דעתם לכתת רגליהם מעיר לעיר לשאול עצות מרחוק ולא שעו אל יקוק לשוב אליו ברוח נמוכה והכנעת הגוף לקבל תוכחתו באהבה כי את אשר יאהב יקוק וכו’:
My beloved brothers and friends, from hidden love and revealed rebuke, let us dispute:
Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past. Was there ever such a thing, and where did you find this custom in all of the books of the Sages of Israel early and late to have the custom and decree to ask material advice about what to do in the issues of the material world, even from the great sages of Israel, the early ones like the Tanaim and Emoraim to whom no secrets were held back and the path of heaven was lit up for them, but only the prophets themselves, who were before Israel, like Samuel the visionary who Saul went to to ask God about the asses that his father had lost?
For in truth, all of the issues of the human except for the words of Torah and the fear of heaven are only attainable through prophesy, and the sages do not have bread…
But I will say the truth to those who will hear me. For love distorts the line, and it is a covering for the eyes so that they will not see truth because of the great love they have of the life of the body for the sake of heaven to serve God with it in the flash of the fire and the great flame from the love of their souls for God. And therefore, they are rightly angered by the pain of the body (God forbid) and they are not able to accept it at all until they can pass them from their minds by pounding their legs from city to city to ask advice from afar and they do not pay attention to God, to return to Him with a lowly spirit and a subdued body to accept His rebuke with love for the one that God loves…

Dr. Ursula Staudinger, The Study of Life Review, Max-Planck-Institut fur Bildungsforschung, Berlin, 1989, pp. 62-65,

Philosophical, Religious, and Secular Accounts of Wisdom

According to Bryce (1979), the oldest Western wisdom literature came from Egypt and centered around the difficulty of maintaining faith when confronted with the injustices and paradoxes of life. In Greek and Roman philosophy, for example, Aristotle and 62 Plato stressed the intellectual aspects of wisdom whereas Cicero and Seneca considered wisdom a moral rather than an intellectual virtue (see Collins, 1962; Rice, 1958).
In a recent philosophical account of wisdom, Kekes (1983) combined such moral and intellectual aspects by describing wisdom as interpretive knowledge, that is knowledge about good means to good ends. Although Kekes has written according to a philosophical tradition, he used terms that very much resemble the above presented notion of expertise. He, thus, related accurate interpretation to a combination of “breadth” and “depth.” His notion of breadth can be interpreted in terms of a relativistic and contextualistic point of view; and his notion of depth can be described as knowledge about the fundamental themes of human existence (e. g., death, illnesses, emotions) as well as the ability to set priorities of commitment. Kekes claimed that wisdom becomes visible through good judgement in what he called hard cases.
In Eastern philosophy and religion two thousand years ago, Confucius described wisdom as being able to follow what the heart desired, without transgressing what was right (see de Beauvoir, 1972). In this seemingly simple statement one very important feature of wisdom is encoded, that is the integration of emotion, cognition, and moral.
Finally, the theme of worldly wisdom can be found in fairy tales. In an analysis of this topic, Chinen (1987) arrived at two main aspects of worldly wisdom as it is implied in a number of fairy tales. The first aspect referred to insights about human nature, and the second to a transcendence of the self and a generative attitude.
Theoretical Concepts of Wisdom in Psychology
In psychology also, there is at least some history to the interest in wisdom…Consider, for example, Hall’s following description of the wisdom of age. “As the eye dims and the dominance of optical impressions over attention declines, we see ideas clearer and follow the associations of thought rather than those of the external world.” (1922, p. 403)
Translating this statement in the life-span terminology, introduced above, would suggest that old people may select their accumulated experiences and knowledge as a domain of optimization and thus compensate for the reduced capacity of their senses. In fact, the reduced sensory capacity may be a precondition for the optimization of accumulated experiences and knowledge.
Jung (1971), in his writings, talked about the archetype of the old wise person which is part of our collective unconscious and which can be found in fairy tales and folklore. This part of the collective unconscious, according to Jung, dates back to illiterate societies where social continuity was maintained by oral tradition, primarily provided by tribal elders. As part of the collective unconscious, Jung claimed that wisdom is timeless. Jung stressed that old age has a significance of its own. It is not only the “appendage to life mornings” (1971, p. 17)…
Erikson characterized the attainment of wisdom by features such as richness of knowledge, insight, and maturity of judgement. An integrated old person, according to Erikson, acknowledges the historical relativity of life, recognizes younger generations’ need for participation in societal responsibility, and thinks about the paradoxes of life. In his considerations concerning wisdom and the context of knowledge, Meacham (1983) characterized a wise person as someone who knows that he/she does not know (i. e., with increasing knowledge also the insight into all possible knowledge increases). Consequently, a wise person will in situations of decision-making always look for further information and alternative solutions. For Meacham, wisdom implied the ability to recognize and formulate problems… Meacham concluded by stressing that a wise person is able to balance knowledge and doubt. Although it seems as if Meacham is stressing the intellectual dimensions of wisdom, the balancing of knowledge and doubt implies an integration of cognitive and emotional processes.


This survey of theoretical and empirical approaches to the concept of wisdom is concluded by summarizing its main features. It seems that the integration of cognitive-reflective, emotional, and ethical aspects should be at the heart of a conceptualization of wisdom and distinguish wisdom from, for example, social intelligence or practical intelligence. As pointed out, the theoretical approaches discussed above vary in the emphasis they put on each of these aspects. Wisdom is not only rich knowledge about the human condition, about people, about situations, about oneself. Wisdom also includes an interpretation and evaluation of that knowledge and it finally comprises the awareness and management of the limitations of that knowledge. In most of the theoretical conceptions, presented above, wisdom is related to late adulthood. Wisdom can be acquired with time, with the accumulation of experience. It is questionable, however, whether wisdom can be learned or taught.



  1. Based on the definition of Wisdom presented here, does study of Torah seem like a reasonable way of attaining wisdom? Is it necessarily the best way?
  2. Does Torah grant authority on the basis of wisdom (as defined above) or on the basis of something else? What other bases might there be?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, If there is No Da’at, How Can We Have Leadership? (Unauthorized Translation by Joseph Faith)

…אחת השאלות הקשות ביותר בתחום זה משיקה, וסובבת-הולכת את נושא דברינו: אם אין דעת, “דעת תורה” מנין?
על מנת להמחיש זאת, אספר לכם סיפור. לפני שנים, נפטרה רעייתו של מורי ורבי, ראש הישיבה הרב ר’ יצחק הוטנר זצ”ל, ונסעתי לבני ברק לנחמו בשעת אבלו. כאשר באתי אצלו, מצאתיו יושב לבדו. שוחחנו בארבע עיניים, והייתה זו שיחה גלויה וכנה, מלב אל לב. הרב הוטנר סיפר לי, שאחד מתלמידי החכמים שנכנס לנחמו, ניסה לשכנעו ול”הסביר” לו עד כמה הפטירה חיובית, שהרי רעייתו מצויה כעת ב”עלמא דקשוט”, בעולם האמת, עולם שכולו טוב וכיוצא באלה דברים בטלים…למותר לומר שדברים אלה אינם ראויים כלל וכלל.
זכורני שבשעה שסיפר לי הרב הוטנר את הדברים, הרים קולו וקרא על אותו תלמיד חכם את דברי המדרש החמורים (ויקרא רבה, פרשה א’): “כל תלמיד חכם שאין בו דעת – נבלה טובה הימנו”. והוסיף הרב הוטנר בקולו הרועם: שמעת? “כל תלמיד חכם שאין בו דעת”. ותן דעתך, אין מדובר כאן על בור ועם הארץ שאין בו דעת, אלא דווקא על תלמיד חכם. צורבא מרבנן, שמילא כרסו ש”ס ופוסקים, הבקי ב’קצות’ ו’בנתיבות’. אך אם אין בו דעת, שיכולה להנחותו ולהדריכו כך שיהא מעורב בדעת עם הבריות, וינהג בהם מנהג דרך ארץ, נבלה טובה הימנו! ואלמלא שמעתי דברים נוקבים אלה במו אוזניי מפי מורי ורבי, הייתי חושש לומר אותם מדעתי.
ובכן…די לנו אם נאמר שממדרש חכמים זה ניתן להסיק בבירור שה”דעת” אינה מתת שמים, מתנת חינם המסורה אוטומטית בידיו של אדם, ויהא אפילו תלמיד חכם, גדול שבגדולים. ה”דעת” אינה שלובה ואחוזה בהכרח בלמדנות ובידע, ואינה בהכרח כרוכה עמם כאש בנעורת…
ח. איזהו חכם שיש בו “דעת”?
השאלה הנשאלת מאליה היא מהו פשרה של אותה ‘דעת’, ומה מקומה בעולמנו התורני, הקיומי, הרוחני והערכי. דומה כי ה’דעת’ שאליה נתכוון הרב הוטנר היא תרכובת של שכל ישר (common sense), שכל של “בעלי-בתים” (שיש מתלמידי החכמים הנוטים לזלזל בו), עם הבנה מעמיקה של הסיטואציה. תלמיד חכם שיש בו דעת מנסה להבין הן את האדם הן את מקומו ומעמדו. לשם כך דרושה הבנה פסיכולוגית מעמיקה, ולצדה הבנה והכרה של המציאות, ההתפתחותית והקיומית, שבה נמצא השואל. אם תימצי לומר, על שלושה דברים עולמו של תלמיד חכם אמתי עומד, בשעה שהוא בא לייעץ או להורות את השואל את הדרך ילך בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשה:
א. הבנת עולמו ונפשו של האדם העומד מולו;
ב. הבנת המציאות והסיטואציה המדוברת;
ג. חשבון נפש אמיתי וכֵן מצדו-שלו, המחייבו לקבוע תחילה האמנם הוא ראוי לדון בנושא, והאם הוא אכן בקיא בו דיו.
לשם כל אלה יש צורך ברגישות וביכולת הבנה בנפש האדם. עד כמה קנית כלים, הדרכה וחינוך, שיאפשרו לך לבחון דברים כהווייתם? כאן מתמקד הקושי העיקרי שלי בנוגע ל”דעת תורה”. במישור העקרוני, אין לי כל בעיה עם הצורך וההיזקקות ל”דעת תורה”. להפך. השאלה היא “דעת תורה” של מי ולשֵם מה.
כאשר נכנסת, למשל, לחדרו של ר’ שלמה-זלמן אויערבך, ולו למשך רבע שעה, לא יכולת לצאת משם בלי שהרגשת איזו הארה. אכן, לו כל גדולי התורה היו “ר’ שלמה-זלמנ’ס”, לא הייתה לי כל התנגדות ל”דעת תורה”. ר’ שלמה-זלמן ידע היטב להשיב כהלכה בעניינים שהיה מצוי בהם, אך בד בבד ידע לומר “איני יודע” בעניינים שלא היה מצוי בהם. ומי לנו גדול כרש”י – רבן של ישראל – שכתב בכמה וכמה מקומות בפירושו לתורה ולתלמוד “איני יודע” (והגאון רבי עקיבא איגר טרח לאסוף ולציין את כל אותם מקורות). אני מסופק ביותר האם ניתן להתחשב ב”דעת תורה” של רב ותלמיד חכם, גדול ככל שיהיה, שחסר את היושר והכנות לומר “איני יודע”, או כזה שאינו מסוגל להוציא מפיו את המשפט “איני בקי ואיני מצוי בתחום חיים זה”…
איני מסכים לכך שיחסנו לגדולי תורה יהיה כיחסנו לגדולים בפיזיקה או בכימיה. תורה אינה מקצוע טכנוקרטי. התורה היא תורת חיים, היא חיינו ואורך ימינו, ובה נהגה יומם ולילה. אך דווקא מתוך תפיסה זו, עלינו לעשות את מירב המאמצים במטרה לבטל כל סתירה בין המקצועיות שבתורה ובין הדעת; בין הגדלות בתורה ובין הרגישות האנושית…
One of the most difficult questions in this field, relates to and encompasses the topic of our discussion: If there is no ‘da’at’, how can we have ‘Da’at Torah’? To illustrate this, I will relate a story. Many years ago, I travelled to Bnei Brak to console my rabbi and teacher, Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt’l, in his mourning, when his wife had passed away. When I went to see him, I found him sitting alone. We had a private conversation, and this was conducted in a very open and honest fashion, from one heart to another. Rav Hutner told me that one of the talmidei chachamim who came to console him, tried to convince him and to ‘explain’ to him how his wife’s passing was ‘positive’, inasmuch as she was now in the world of truth, a world which is entirely positive and other such nonsense… It is superfluous to state that saying such things is totally unsuitable. I remember that when Rav Hutner told me this, he raised his voice and he applied the following severe words of the Midrash to that talmid chacham (Vayikra Rabba 1): “Any talmid chacham who lacks ‘da’at’ is worse than a putrid animal carcass!” Rav Hutner added in his thunderous voice: “Did you hear this? ‘Any talmid chacham who lacks ‘da’at”. Consider this – we are not discussing an ignoramus who lacks ‘da’at’, but rather specifically a talmid chacham. A talmid chacham, who has ‘filled his belly’ with Talmud and the responsa literature, who is an expert in the ‘Ketzot HaChoshen’ and ‘Netivot HaMishpat’. But if he lacks ‘da’at’, which can direct and guide him so that he will act with understanding towards others, and interact with them in a civil fashion, he is worse than a putrid animal carcass. Had I not heard these incisive comments with my own ears from my rabbi and teacher, I would be fearful of voicing such sentiments of my own accord. So…it will suffice for us to note that one can certainly conclude from this midrashic teaching that ‘da’at’ is not bestowed from on high, as a free gift which is passed automatically into man’s hands, even if he is a supreme talmid chacham. ‘Da’at’ does not necessarily accompany knowledge and analytical skill, and is not necessarily bound up with them like fire is with hemp fibres.
8. Who is the sage who possesses ‘da’at’?
The obvious question is: What are the qualities of this ‘da’at’ that we speak of, and what is its place in our Toraitic, existential, spiritual and moral world? It would appear that the ‘da’at’ of which Rav Hutner spoke is a combination of ‘common sense’, lay-logic (that some talmidei chachamim tend to disparage) together with a deep understanding of the situation at hand. A talmid chacham who possesses ‘da’at’ attempts to understand the person, his background and his position. To accomplish this, one needs deep psychological insight, together with and understanding and recognition of the developing and existing reality that the questioner inhabits. Thus one could say that the world of a true talmid chacham, when he is advising or directing a questioner in a certain path, stands on three things:
a) Understanding the world and soul of the person who stands in front of him.
b) Understanding the reality and the situation at hand.
c) A true and honest accounting of his own conscience, which obligates him to establish whether he is indeed capable of issuing guidance on a specific issuance, and whether he possesses sufficient expertise regarding it.
For all of these, one needs sensitivity and the ability to truly understand another person. To what extent have you acquired the tools, the training and the education that will enable you to analyse such matters as they really are? This is my central difficulty regarding ‘Da’at Torah’. In theory, I have no issue with the need for making use of ‘Da’at Torah’. On the contrary. The question is whose ‘Da’at Torah’ and to what end?
When one entered into R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s room, for example, even for a quarter of an hour, you could not leave without feeling some form of enlightenment. Indeed, were it the case that all gedolim were ‘R. Shlomo Zalmans’ I would have no opposition to ‘Da’at Torah’. R. Shlomo Zalman was very proficient at answering questions on matters he was an expert in, but at the same time he knew how to say ‘I don’t know’ on matters in which he was not. And what greater example do we have than Rashi, the teacher of the Jewish people, who writes in several places in his commentary to the Torah and the Talmud, ‘I don’t know’ (and the great genius R. Akiva Eiger noted and gathered together all of them). I am doubtful in the extreme as to whether one should consider the ‘Da’at Torah’ of a talmid chacham, great as he may be, who lacks the integrity and honesty to say ‘I don’t know’ or is incapable of saying ‘I’m not an expert in the field’…
I do not concede that our relationship with gedolei Torah should be identical to that with great scholars of physics or chemistry. Torah is not a mere technocratic subject. The Torah is a Torah of life, it is ‘our life and the length of our days’, and in it ‘we shall meditate day and night’. But specifically due to this conception, we must expend the greatest of efforts to remove any conflicts between excelling in Torah and in ‘da’at’, between greatness in Torah and human sensitivity…


  1. Does Rav Lichtenstein oppose Da’as Torah per se? What precisely is the distinction he makes between a Talmid Chacham who has Da’as Torah and one who doesn’t?
  2. What aspects of Rav Lichtenstein’s definition of “da’at” correspond with Staudinger’s definition of wisdom? What does knowledge of Torah add according to Rav Lichtenstein?

Yisrael Meir Kagan, Chofetz Chayim on the Torah, ed. Shemuel Grainiman, New York, 1943, pp. 11-12.

יהי מאורות ברקיע השמים, — והיו לאותות ולמועדים ולימים ושנים. (א׳ יד) וברש״י, לאותות, כשהמאורות לוקין סימן רע הוא לעולם, ועל הכתוב השני ״והיו למאורות ברקיע השמים״ מפרש רש״י ״עוד זאת ישמשו שיאירו לעולם״.
ומכאן נראה, מה רב המרחק בין דעתנו לדעת התורה. לו היינו שואלים אף את החכם היותר גדול בעולם, בשביל איזו מטרה נברא השמש, ודאי הי׳ משיב: לתועלת הברואים, להאיר להם ולחממם, לעזור בצמיחת פרי האדמה ופרי העץ ועוד ענינים אין מספר ואין ערוך, ואם ישנן עוד איזה השתמשיות, הלא הן טפלין לדברים העיקריים. והתורה גלתה לנו להיפך, כי עיקר מנת בריאת השמש הי׳ בשביל לדעת ולסמן את המצב של העמים ומצב עם ישראל. אם החמה לוקה סימן רע לאוה״ע, ואם, חלילה, הלבנה לוקה, הוא להיפך, ומכיון שנבראו המאורות למטרה זאת, נתנה להם היכולת גם להאיר לעולם ולדרים, ברם זהו רק דרך אנב : — ״עוד זאת ישמשו שיאירו לעולם״.
“Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years;” And in Rashi it says, “As signs: when the lights are stricken, it is a bad sign for the world.” And on the second passage, “and they serve as lights in the expanse of the sky…” Rashi explains, “they will also act as the lights of the world.”
And from this we learn how distant our minds are from the mind of the Torah. For if we were to ask the wisest person in the world, ‘for what reason was the sun created?’ They would doubtless respond, ‘for the benefit of the creations. To give them light and to warm them, to help the sprouting of the plants and trees,’ and innumerable things. And if there are other uses for the sun, these are secondary to the main things. And the Torah revealed that, on the contrary, the primary purpose for creating the sun was so that it could know and signal the status of the nations and of Israel. If the sun is stricken, this is an evil sign for the nations of the world. But if, God forbid, the moon is stricken, the meaning is reversed. And since the lights were created for this purpose, they were also given the ability to give light to the world and all those who live in it. However, this is only a side effect – “they will also act as the lights of the world.”


  1. What does the Chofetz Chayim think that the Torah tells us about the world? Is it about science? Nature? Something else?
  2. Based on this Chofetz Chayim, what does a Torah Scholar most have to offer in terms of relating to present day events? Does this correspond with any of the definitions of wisdom offered above?

Avraham (Rami) Reiner, R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as a Halakhic Decisor, Modern Judaism 33, 2013. pp. 267-269

Between Substance and Style

R’ Herzog’s style, as seen in the few sentences cited earlier, teaches usthat he tended to specify the desirable halachic outcomes regarding the issues at stake in his appeals to his correspondents. In discussing the Soviet divorces, he went so far as to depict a lenient ruling as rescuing Abraham’s daughters, as a sanctification of the divine name and as bringing greater glory to God. R’ Elyashiv’s response—those we have already studied as well as the vast majority of the halachic responsa written throughout his career—are devoid of such formulations; very rarely does he reveal the essential stance that motivates and informs his examination of accepted halachic sources. Moreover,R’ Elyashiv’s responsa reveal little concerning the context in which the responsum was written. Were it not for the date on some responsa and/or the petitioner’s reference to a specific event, there would be no way for the reader to ascertain whether the responsum was composed prior to the establishment of the State of Israel or thereafter, before or after the Six Day War, during R’ Elyashiv’s tenure at the Chief Rabbinate’s court system or after his retirement from that system in 1973. Similarly, it is extremely rare for him to refer to himself, or to his close family members, even his grandfather, the author of Leshem Shvo ve’Ahlamah, his boyhood mentor. I would suggest that this style points to a matter of substance—namely, R’ Elyashiv’s fundamental conception of Halacha. R’ Elyashiv views Halacha as an independent entity that is not contingent on changing times and transient circumstances. Even personal circumstances, grim as they might be,are not factors that mandate the shaping and bending of Halacha;therefore, depictions that might constitute decisive factors in a lenient halachic ruling are absent from the text of his responsa. The individual—his distress, needs, hardships and desires—is merely an object,completely subordinate to the Halacha and its path, and therefore,it is clear that the needs of the individual and society, no matter how dire, may not influence the autonomous halachic truth.
Notwithstanding a few exceptions to the thousands of paragraphs of halachic deliberation recorded over a sixty year period, these facts evoke the main precepts of R’ Elyashiv’s halachic thought. Halacha, in his conception, constitutes an independent, closed system, invulnerable to the vicissitudes of time and its impact, and lacks any objective other than defining God’s demands as articulated by the accumulated halachic literature of generations. As a result, a halachic decisor such as R’ Elyashiv is impervious to the reality he encounters. An inherently transitory reality, conversely, is the operative basis of a timeless and immutable Halacha that cannot and should not be expected to change.Halacha applies its analytical–theoretical definitions and its practical-halachic determinations on a given portion of reality, determining accordingly what is permitted, commanded or prohibited and distinguishing between kosher and non-kosher, pure and impure.
Sentences that appear in the responsa of R’ Elyashiv’s contemporaries, and in those of previous generations of Jewish sages, such as ‘‘but it is difficult for me to incur financial loss to Jews,’’ or ‘‘but we should not be stringent regarding the other matters of this responsum that exceed the bounds of what is completely compulsory, since our generation is weak,’’ or ‘‘therefore one can rely on it, so as not to cause them to completely forgo the commandment of immersion, since our generation uses any excuse to forgo the commandment of immersion,’’ are exceedingly rare in R’ Elyashiv’s responsa and appear on no more than a handful of occasions.
These sentences, tied to a particular time and place, create a halachic stance that is dependent upon time and circumstances—a highly significant dependence that nonetheless often goes unnoticed even by the rabbinic respondent himself. R’ Elyashiv’s approach, in theory and even more so in practice, does not allow for this possibility; indeed, his writings are marked by the almost complete absence of reasoning that relies on extra-halachic factors.


  1. Does a halakhic position such as Rav Elyashiv’s necessarily exclude him from Rav Lichtenstein’s definition of da’at? What about Dr. Staudinger’s definition of wisdom?