Thursday, October 18, 2007

Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - Projecting An Illusion Of Intelligence

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

You once wrote,

"The real problem today is that everyone is so busy worrying someone might find out they don't know anything that no one has time to actually learn anything."

Could you expound on this thought and perhaps provide some examples or experiences where you have seen this has been the case?

Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:

One of the foremost principles encouraged in this information age is intelligence. There is so much information that we need to be able to process it quickly and accurately. As Plato points out in his Republic, espousing a trait doesn't necessarily engender that trait, it only ensures that people will act as if they have that trait. The information society is no different than ancient Greece in this respect.

It's far easier to take the easy route and seem intelligent and knowledgeable than it is to take the route of deep wisdom. Of course the difference between the two is only readily apparent to a true seeker of wisdom.

The Maor Eynayim, Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, explains the fear a thief feels at being discovered. While he may be involved in an underhanded act, the fear he experiences is a potential doorway to a new and deeper relationship with HaShem. If only he would learn to connect that fear to HaShem who sees all.

Just like the thief, when we spend our time in g'neivat da'at, convincing others that we are knowledgeable, the fear of being found out has tremendous potential as a source of relationship to HaShem who knows everything and is utterly unknowable himself.

Until we discover the comfort and closeness of recognizing that we know nothing, we members of the information age cannot develop a deep and intimate relationship with HaShem who is the source of all knowledge.

This is the root of the concept that wisdom, Hochmah, is ko'ah mah, the power of being able to ask, the power of acknowledging that we don't know. In fact, the world was created and draws its life wholly from HaShem's divine Hochmah. (As it is written, החכמה תחיה - Wisdom enlivens) When we hide from true wisdom, we are doing no less than hiding from life itself.

This whole issue is very apropos of parashath Bereishith: When did Adam haRishon hide from HaShem? Only after he sunk from the potential level of Hochmah, of Hayyim, (of eating from the tree of life) to the level of knowledge, of da'at. (When he ate from the tree of knowledge)

We can draw this down in very practical terms as well. The rise of Google and the power of search is a result of the incomprehensible volume of information contained in the internet. Search is so valuable and powerful because it allows us to root out the meaningful information from the mass of all knowledge. Similarly, Wisdom is the ability to take meaningful lessons from the experiences, the knowledge, of our lives. We can memorize endless data, but if we can't weed out the life-lessons we've accomplished nothing.

The only way to wisdom is to acknowledge our own ignorance by learning to ask מה – what? as well as why? how? where? and when?

As a personal example of what I'm talking about, I quoted Plato's Republic without ever having read it in its entirety. This is what I learned in school, to quote enough so that it sounds like I know what I'm talking about.

Plato's Republic was actually a turning point in my life in that I put the book down not because I didn't care about the contents, but because I saw a deeper wisdom. His argument, put forward by Socrates, didn't actually hold water. From the outside, people who appear righteous and people who are righteous are the same, which was the foundation from which he began to argue. But what he didn't mention was that from the inside, people who appear righteous live an empty life and people who live righteously have a fulfilling life. Since the perspective from the inside is too subjective, Plato dismissed its relevance, but since all we actually have is our own subjective perspective, the view from the inside is the only one that really matters.

We can make everyone else think that we know something, but when we're alone with ourselves we either know it or we don't. In other words, we are either spending our time making other people stupider (convincing them of our false knowledge) or we are spending our time making ourselves smarter. It's really much easier to make ourselves smarter than to try to fool everyone else, I don't know why we usually take the difficult route.


At October 18, 2007 at 6:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post. Indeed, it reminds me about Rabbi Nahman asking jews to be as simple as possible. "Tamim tiyé im Hashem elokeycha..." I had a wonderful master, even not a "Rav", but really a great learner of the Gemara, that was spending his time learning talmud, and trying to understand new hidushim inside... Once I talked to him asking about his opinion on a specific sefer (maybe Nefesh Hachaim or sthhg like that, and he told me: "I dont know, I dont have the time to read all kind of seforim, just enough to learn the Talmud..."

At October 18, 2007 at 7:58:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We shouldn't put ourselves down too much either.

At October 18, 2007 at 8:07:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

i couldn't agree with you more..

the original comment which ASJ asked me to expand upon was written to someone who was claiming that nowadays we know everything until nothing is interesting anymore.

Rebbe Nachman said in an invaluable lesson that certain people need to be brought down from shamayim and back to aretz, while other people need to be brought up from the aretz to the shamayim. (this particular Torah is aimed at bringing certain people, myself included, (perhaps myself most of all for trying to apply this lesson since Rebbe Nachman said in the same Torah that only the Tzaddik who is the klal can really apply this lesson) from shamayim back to aretz.)

mitzwah gedolah lhiyoth b'simcha.. we shouldn't let anything at all get us down :)


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