The Wisdom of Our Sages

May 2023   Keeping Connected

Dear Friends,

This past week in my 7th grade class, I asked my students to work in pairs to answer these prompts: Who is wise? Who is strong? Who is rich? Who is worthy of praise? I explained to the students that I was not looking for a specific person as an answer. For instance, I was not asking them to respond to the question “who is rich?” with the answer Bill Gates. Instead I was looking for some type of definition or amplification of the question as a response. Before I share with you what the students responded, I would invite you to take a few moments to think about how you might answer these questions: Who is wise? Who is strong? Who is rich? Who is worthy of praise?

When I asked the students to share their answers, I was so moved by the wisdom of their responses. With a group of 7th graders, after a long day at school, you never quite know whether a question will resonate or elicit a thoughtful response. In this case, each group was insightful and the answers reflected personal values that I found heartening in a day and age when there is so much in the news about young people being jaded and disconnected.

Here are some of their responses:

Who is wise?

  •  Someone who leads with not only their head, but their (metaphorical) heart.
  •  A person who understands concepts from other people’s perspectives.

Who is strong?

  •  Someone who is able to persevere throughout any struggle.
  •  A person who can work through problems responsibly.

Who is rich?

  • Someone who is surrounded by friends, family, and happiness, no matter their financial state.
  • A person who is happy and has a good family and mindset on life.

Who is worthy of praise?

  •  Everyone who has a good heart.
  •  Someone who isn’t perfect but works hard on being the best version of themselves.

After reading our B’nai Mitzvah classes answers, it is easy to see that these young people really are worthy of being seen as young adults in our congregation.

These prompts were actually taken from an almost 2,000-year-old rabbinic text called Pirke Avot – The Wisdom of Our Sages.  This text reads:

Rabbi Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? One who learns from each person. Who is strong? One who is slow to anger. Who is rich? One who is happy with what they have. Who is praiseworthy? One who honors others.  As you can see our students are as sage as the early rabbis. May we all strive in our pursuit of wisdom, strength, and honor.

Wishing you all a happy spring,

Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry