“Through me, kings rule,” wrote King Solomon in Proverbs (8:15). He was not talking about money here, not power, and not family. He was talking about wisdom.
Through wisdom, kings rule.
In Ethics of the Fathers (4:1), Ben Zoma said a wise man is “someone who learns from everyone.” Now, “everyone” in this context is not meant to indicate everyone has something you can learn from; rather, it serves to emphasize that who says something isn’t as important as what he says. In other words, sometimes we get caught up in the medium rather than the message; and if you get caught up in those externalities, then you just don’t get it.
When it comes to recognizing your mistakes in life, that is one area where just about anyone can help you. Think about it: Don’t you find yourself spotting the mistakes of the people around you? The challenge is that they don’t see their mistakes the way you see them – they see them the way they see them. And not only that, but they also don’t want to listen to you pointing out their mistakes. We all struggle with this bias, and if we would open our hearts and minds to the observations of others, how much better life would be!
Ben Zoma was trying to teach us listen to anyone who wants to teach us something. And that is the message of Yehuda in this week’s parsha (Torah portion).
Yehuda quite possibly reached rock bottom in terms of embarrassing moments. Yehuda didn’t have to admit his guilt, and it was clear from Tamar’s remarks that she was not going to publicly name him. But Yehuda knew he had to learn from her, because, as Ben Zoma pointed out, it is so much better to learn from your mistakes than to keep repeating them. “She is more righteous than me,” he announced publicly (Genesis 39:27).
As King Solomon pointed out in Ecclesiastes (7:20), “There is no one in the world who does not sin.” In the world we live in, a life without mistakes is not an option – but, rare as it is, learning from your mistakes is something you can do.
If you think about it, many of us actually live this way in the area of health. When it comes to an infection, sore, rash, or any number of bothersome complaints, we will listen to diagnoses and suggestions from just about anyone. We must be just as “wise,” as Ben Zoma envisioned wisdom, when it comes to life. Learning from everyone means don’t let your insecurities stop you from listening. If you’re worried about looking foolish, remind yourself that the key to wisdom is not how much you know but how much you desire to know. Do not prioritize your pride, but your growth, and you will find yourself making choices you can be proud of.
It is no accident that the kings of Israel descend from Yehuda. After all, “through wisdom, kings rule.” So, if you want my advice: Listen to the advice of others.
By Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.