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Thursday, May 08, 2003

Intelligence and Kindheartedness

A story about Reb Naftoli of Ropschitz
When Reb Naftoli was a young man, he suspected that a certain outwardly-pious Jew was less than genuine. He waited for an opportunity to test him, and this occurred once when there was overcrowding at the table and someone gave this man a shove.

"Take care!" Reb Naftoli said to his colleagues. "You must treat this man with respect. Why, this man is one who does penance by fasting every Monday and Thursday."

The man turned toward Reb Naftoli, and with an angry voice said,"What do you mean every Monday and Thursday? Young man, I'll have you know that I fast all week, from Shabbos to Shabbos."

The man's abominable self-righteousness was thus exposed.

Said Reb Naftoli, "I prefer a rasha (wicked person) who knows he is a rasha, to a tzaddik (righteous person) who knows he is a tzaddik.

(Generation to Generation, by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski,M.D.)

Rabbi Berel Wein says that the rule is "If you think you're righteous - you're not". This doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to be better people, just that we have to always recognize our shortcomings and work to correct them.

I think the same dictum applies to wisdom - "If you think you're so wise - you're not". Wisdom goes beyond having the neurons in your brain fire at a fast rate. It goes beyond accumulating facts. Wisdom is knowing what you know, but more importantly, knowing what you don't know.

Who is wise? He who learns from every person.