34 - Situations - Who Is Wise? One Who Learns From Everyone

While others may have attained some wisdom, only one who has the ability to learn from everyone is a truly wise person.




Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Do something this week consciously using both derech eretz and ahavas yisrael together.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.


 Lesson #34


Who Is Wise?  One Who Learns From Everyone

איזהו חכם, הלומד מכל אדם

Aizehu Chacham, HaLomaid Mikol Adam

Perek Daled, Mishna Aleph Part 1

Story(based on a true story)

It was Sukkos, and my husband David and I were off to my daughter Sarah’s house for a three-day yom tov.  I was looking forward to spending time with my amazing grandchildren and maybe actually having time to talk to Sarah, in addition to lending her a hand.

One thing did make me nervous.  Sarah’s family had been invited out for a meal, and David and I were invited to come along.  I felt bad that Sarah should have to turn down an opportunity to have a meal off just because we were there, so when Sarah approached me about it I said that of course we would love to go.

The thing is, I’m kind of shy.  I’m not always so well-spoken, plus I came to observant Judaism later in life and don’t know all the rules and lingo like so many other people do.  My community is made of a lot of people like me, and I often find myself to be the one teaching others about practices, but here I would now be out in public in Sarah’s community where I felt more exposed.

It didn’t help when I found out the day before the meal that our hosts were a rabbi and his wife, both of whom taught in the local schools.  I figured I would endure the meal quietly among our erudite hosts and our thankfully well-educated children and grandchildren, and Sarah would get a break.  I was a little nervous about David, though.  While he’s very much a people person, he can get irritated when he feels someone is lording their knowledge over him and his later-acquired and possibly differently-oriented Jewish education.

On the second day of the holiday, we walked three blocks and were welcomed by our hosts into the largest sukka I’ve ever seen belonging to a private family.  The table was set for over twenty; apparently, we were not the only guests.  As the seats filled in, we saw a number of young women, a small family with two babies and a woman about my age who turned out to be the Grandma in our hosts’ home.

We stood for a grand Kiddush, washed and ate from large, perfect-looking challos, and began eating the thankfully familiar looking gefilte fish and some lovely salads.  As I began cutting my granddaughter’s fish, our host announced, “Hello everyone!  Welcome to our meal.  We’d like to really meet everyone here and learn about you.  We’d like to go around the table and have each of you introduce yourself, tell us what you do or where you go to school, and share one thing about yourself that you would like to tell us.  Mendie?  You start.”

As Shifra ate her fish I processed this.  Here was an ice-breaker like I did with my fourth-graders on the first day of school.  It felt kind of strange, but the entire table was focused on whoever was talking and I didn’t need to worry about making conversation, so that was OK.  I listened.

And so did my hosts.  As the meal went on, each and every person, family or guest, shared something small or big, and our hosts asked questions.  They seemed truly interested in their own kids, in their friends, and in their guests, among whom we were apparently not the only people they had never met.

And then it was my turn.  I introduced myself and thanked my hosts for their kindness.  I mentioned my wonderful grandchildren.  And I told them I had taught fourth grade in the public school system for the last twenty five years.  The rabbi asked which town, I answered, and I looked to my left for my husband David to take his turn.

But the rabbi’s wife wanted to know more.  She asked what reading curriculum I used and whether I liked it, and I soon found myself in a conversation with the three other teachers at the table about various reading methods and differentiated instruction.  Hearing about my success with my own personally-adapted curriculum, the rabbi’s wife mentioned that she would like to speak with me sometime soon to get more details because she might like to try it, and one of the young women expressed interest in contacting me as well.

Following me, David shared with gusto about his construction business.  He answered questions from our host who declared himself “mechanically clueless and in need of help”.  David even gave insight to one of their boys about a g'mara he was learning about an eruv, using a handful of building blocks from the kids’ toy room as a visual aid.

We enjoyed the meal immensely, including the Torah the rabbi taught at the meal.  As we walked home, each of us schlepping a tired grandchild, I mentioned to David how I had felt valued as a person, and that Sarah had told me that the rabbi’s wife really did want my phone number.  I also mentioned that I saw him avidly following the rabbi’s Torah talk.

David said to me, “Those are some smart people there, seeing how great you are and knowing that everyone has something to offer.  Did you hear how I helped a yeshiva student with g'mara?  Under that rabbi’s hat is a really great head.  He listened to me and you so well I knew I should listen to him.”

Pirkay Avos:


"בן זומא אומר:  ...איזהו חכם, הלומד מכל אדם ..."

"Ben Zoma omer:  Aizehu chacham, halomaid mikol adam... ."

"Ben Zoma says:  Who is wise?  One who learns from everyone..." (Perek Daled, Mishna Alef).

The M'iri writes that this mishna is asking, “What kind of person seeks the correct path to wisdom?”  Because a genuine seeker is assured of eventually acquiring wisdom, the mishna refers to him even now as wise. 

While others may have attained some wisdom, only one who has the ability to learn from everyone is a truly wise person.  The rationale for this rather surprising definition of a chacham is quite simple:  When HaShem created the universe, he endowed each individual with something unique, which he, in turn, could teach others.  Our wisdom is only complete if we have made full use of the opportunity to learn from everyone’s unique contribution.

In this light, we can appreciate why scholars are known as talmidai chachamim, literally “the disciples of scholars,” rather than as chachamim, wise men in their own right.  It is only because of their willingness to continue to learn from others that they deserve the title “wise”.

R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad finds a homiletical approach in explaining how it is possible to learn from everyone.  He quoted the Talmud which speaks of the importance of humility and the abominable nature of arrogance (Sotah 5a).  Rabbi Yochanan said, “The word ‘adam’, ‘man’, is an acronym for afar, dam, u'mara:  ash, blood and bile, the bitter secretion of the liver.”  In other words, as Rashi explains, this is the summation of a man, therefore, he should not grow proud.  When a person has this degree of humility, he has no problem learning from everyone.

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

How do we benefit when we look past exteriors and status to learn from each person?

How do the people we learn from benefit?

Do we become humbled by learning from others or are we able to learn from others because we are humbled?

Stretch of the Week:

Listen well to learn something from someone around you, and thank them for the help.



Stretch Of The Week