From time to time, I am mindful of the ancient prayer of the Psalmist, “O Lord, teach us to number our days that we may obtain a heart of wisdom.” Across the gulf of the centuries, this is still a basic and paramount concern.
What are those essential elements, those vital virtues and qualities, that make up a heart of wisdom?
Firstly, a heart of wisdom must include the ability and the willingness to respond to change. Changes and alterations to our lives may seem good and desirable, or evil and pernicious, but what is supremely important is that we must learn how to respond to them.
Courage has been correctly described as the ability to relinquish what is familiar. As long as we can keep our minds open and alert, as long as we are able to entertain a new thought, surrender an old prejudice, we will remain vital, gain new ground and move forward in the search for a more abundant life.
Another widespread evil we must give up in order to achieve a heart of wisdom is envy. Much discontent results from comparing ourselves to others. We are sure that the other person is luckier than we are. But, of course, the envious person sees only a small part of the larger picture. How little we really know of what we are envying.
Long ago, rabbis taught that all kinds of hatred are curable except those that flow from envy. King Solomon wisely observed, “Envy is rottenness of the bones.”
In order to achieve a heart of wisdom, we must stop believing that happiness comes with the accumulation of material goods. Of course, no one can question money’s power. The heaviest baggage to carry through life is an empty purse. Poverty condemns many to a squalid and incomplete existence.
But the inordinate and unending quest for material possessions brings neither piece of mind nor ultimate satisfaction. A rabbinic colleague recently warned of a new disease that he called “matrio-sclerosis.” This is a disease that clogs the arteries of human concern.
I am sure that at one time or another, all of us have experienced moments of profound spiritual meaning. The moment on the bimah when the Torah is handed from the arms of one generation into the arms of the next. The moment when we stand by the bedside of a loved one and hold a feeble hand. The moment when we behold a son or daughter standing at the marriage altar. The moment when a child is born into the world. The moment when after sickness, there can be health again. After anguish, we hope again. After death, there is life again.
When you consider life’s highest moments, they turn out to be spiritual in nature. It is this yearning that we call “the neshamah,” the soul or spirit at the centre of our being.
What is a heart of wisdom? It is composed of at least these four ingredients: the ability to respond to inevitable change, the need to eliminate the cancer of envy, to properly evaluate the quest for material possessions and to reach out for the anchorage of spirituality.