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Thought for the Day: Wisdom Comes from Information/Disaster Follows Expressing Baseless Opinions

The second section (chapters 10 through 24) of sefer Mishlei (Proverbs) is where you find all the advice that traditionally think of as "proverbs".  They are statements in the format "Being  leads to , but being leads to ".  Without the insight and explanations provided by our sages, however, they can sound like "Do you take your lunch or the bus?"

One such statement is "When willful wickedness comes, then infamy will follow; but with the modest is wisdom."  (Mishlei 11:2)  First, I am not surprised that willfully wicked people can become infamous, but what does that have to do with wisdom or modesty?  The G"ra opens this up by explaining that "willful wickedness" means to come to beis medrash only for the intellectual stimulation of debate with smart people.  This is not Al Capone, it's the guy who constantly asks questions that are not intended to reveal the full intent of the mishna/gemara/halacha.  They may be really cool, but they don't advance/deepen our understanding.

Chazal were once discussing a certain halacha about birds (Bava Basra 23) and concluded that the answer depended on whether the bird was within 50 amos of its nest; within 50 amos, Answer A; outside 50 amos, Answer B.  R' Yirmiya asked what would happen if the bird had one foot inside 50 amos and one foot out.  R' Yirmiya was promptly ejected from beis medrash for nearly 50 blatt!  Why?!  Because Chazal already said that the answer was one way inside and one way outside.  Obviously, therefore, birds would never had one foot in and one foot out in such a circumstance.  Why not?  Who knows... but that is a question for field biology or ma'aseh b'reishis; absolutely irrelevent to the discussion at hand and offering no insight whatsoever into the issue at hand.

The G"ra further explains the relevance of "modest" in the end of our verse.  The modest person seeks input before expressing an opinion or thought.  We have two eyes to see the Torah sh'Bichtav; two ears to hear to the Torah sh'B'al Peh.  That's how one becomes wise, by observing and listening.  We have only one mouth, because the mouth is only supposed to be employed sparingly and only to further one's understanding be asking clarifying questions.

It seems to me also that eyes require focus; there are many things you don't need to see and the eyes help by focusing forward.  The ears are the most passive of our senses.  There are very few things that should not be heard; ideas that should not be considered.  The mouth however, requires a positive action of will to be engaged.  Moreover, to have any effectiveness, one needs to enlist others to listen.  That's a lot of work!

This one place the midah of laziness can be quite effective: just don't put all that effort into talking.  Be lazy: see what the Torah has to say, listen to Chazal, speak only when necessary.


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