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Shalom.

I am seeking chokhmah and having difficulty (for my sins - Mishlei 1:24-26).

My question is: is chokhmah inquiry? In other words, is it the pursuit of answers to questions in one’s heart, however conscious those questions may be?

I know Daniel 2:21 says that HKBH gives chokhmah to the chacham. Does that imply that chokhmah leads to questions which leads to inquiry (and more questions)? Is chokhmah gained from pursuing answers to questions, however small or quiet they may be in one’s heart?

Many thanks for your time.

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    Chochmah is a broad term encompassing knowledge and intelligence, depending on context.
    – N.T.
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 11:48
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    In that context, those are different qualities of the Torah, as Rashi explains. It is telling you to study Torah.
    – N.T.
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:13
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    According to chassidus, Chochma is this: you know when you are looking for the answer to a problem? Then, there's that moment where you suddenly get the answer, completely, entirely. That's chochma. It may take you a whole essay to type out that idea you just had (using your Binah), but it was all there in that initial flash. It's the "ideas" part of your intellect. A Chacham is certainly someone who asks and answers a lot of questions. A very interesting person, although flighty if he doesn't have good Binah as well.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:20
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    @TomW Sorry but I don't know. I've always found it hard to find other sources that discuss these things in a coherent way, you'll find sources tend to disagree in ways that are harder to resolve, especially if you go back earlier. I would imagine that the Tanya derives this from the Shelah, the Arizal's work, and the Zohar, but again, I am not an expert. Sorry.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:31
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    @RabbiKaii As Rashi says by different types of boils, in Hebrew some words have both broad and specific meanings. Used alone they mean a large category, but usedtogether with other words in that category, they only mean a subcategory. That is why context matters so much.
    – N.T.
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 21:02

1 Answer 1

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Hi @Tom like @NT mentioned it is all about context and depending on that context can have varied meanings...

Let's start with understanding the verse in Daniel 2:21.

The Chida writes in Chomas Anach:

יהב חכמתא לחכימין וכו' הוא גלה עמיקתא וכו'. אפשר דבאומרו יהיב חכמתא לחכימין אפשר להבין דכונתו דהוא חכם ועל כן נתן לו חכמה לזה אמר הוא גלה עמיקתא וכו' כלומר מה שאדם מבין מדעתו הוא חכמה ועל זה אמרתי יהיב חכמתא וכו' אבל זה אינו חכמה שהבנתי מדעתי רק גלוי סוד וזה אפשר על ידי מי שאינו חכם שכך רצה הקב"ה וברוך שם כבודו אשר גלה סודו כן יתן לידידו כי לעולם חסד

He gives the wise their wisdom...He reveals deep and hidden things - When it says, "He gives the wise their wisdom" - it is possible to understand that he is wise and therefore He (G-d) gave him wisdom and that is why it goes on to say, "He reveals deep and hidden things". That is, what a person understands from his mind is wisdom and that it is why it says, "He gives wisdom". But this is not "wisdom" how I understand it from my knowledge - rather it is a revelation of a secret / (deep unknown concept) and this is possible by someone who is not wise, that is how the Almighty willed it, and blessed be the name of His glory, whosoever discovers His secret will also give it to his friend, for mercy is forever.

According to the Chida, wisdom in this context does not necessarily have to be something that an intellectual person is imbued with. It can refer also to someone who has been blessed with a Divine insight and is not intelligence-based.

Ultimately, wisdom is Divine gift and the greatest present that mankind is blessed with. The famed work of Rabbeinu Bacheya - Chovos Halevavos, in the introduction (which brings this verse from Doniel) writes:

The greatest gift which the Creator bestowed on His servants, human beings, after bringing them out to full perception and complete (mature) understanding - is wisdom, which is the life of their spirit and the candle of their intellect; It brings them to the favor of G-d and saves them from His wrath in this world and the next, as Scripture says "for the L-ord gives wisdom: out of His mouth comes knowledge and understanding" (Prov.2:6); And Elihu said: "but there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty that gives them understanding" (Job 32:8); And Daniel said: "He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:21), and "I am the L-ord your G-d who teaches you for your benefit, who leads you by the way that you should go" (Isaiah 48:17).

So, with this as an introduction, let's try providing a basic definition of the term "chochma".

Perhaps the starting point when understanding wisdom is the verse in Mishlei (Proverbs) 9:10:

תְּחִלַּ֣ת חׇ֭כְמָה יִרְאַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֑ה וְדַ֖עַת קְדֹשִׁ֣ים בִּינָֽה

The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

In other words, the main trait that underpins wisdom is a fear of G-d. As the Metzudas Dovid explains:

כי היראה מביאה לידי חכמה

Because fear (of G-d) leads to wisdom.

This is expressed also in Pirkei Avos 3:17 (אִם אֵין חָכְמָה, אֵין יִרְאָה. אִם אֵין יִרְאָה, אֵין חָכְמָה.).

So, we see wisdom and fear of G-d are a two-way street. The Rabbeinu Yonah on the mishnah there explains that the wisdom coupled with fear provides the direction to lead a person on the correct path, and the fear has to underpin the wisdom otherwise the wisdom does not endure.

Indeed, knowing that wisdom is G-d given gift goes a long way in orienting a person's outlook.

Mishlei 3:7 already underlined this earlier:

אַל־תְּהִ֣י חָכָ֣ם בְּעֵינֶ֑יךָ יְרָ֥א אֶת־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וְס֣וּר מֵרָֽע

Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and shun evil.

The Metzudos Dovid there explains this to mean:

Do not be wise in your own eyes - Do not be wise in your own sight to decide that you may be lenient in the case of a forbidden act, that you do not need to impose safeguards upon yourself because a wise man like you finds them unnecessary. Rather, fear the Lord lest you stumble despite your wisdom, and turn away from evil by enacting safeguards for yourself.

So, whilst wisdom may represent a heightened level of knowledge, it can blind a person if not channelled in the correct way.

Fast forward to Mishlei 14:8:

חׇכְמַ֣ת עָ֭רוּם הָבִ֣ין דַּרְכּ֑וֹ וְאִוֶּ֖לֶת כְּסִילִ֣ים מִרְמָֽה

It is the wisdom of a clever man to understand his course; But the stupidity of the dullard is delusion.

The many commentaries there help to further outline what we have discussed thus far:

  1. Rashi - wisdom is for such a man to understand his way / weigh his paths.
  2. Ibn Ezra - His wisdom is the means through which he can choose the correct path for him.
  3. Metzudos Dovid - Wisdom is the means to calculate his action and not act impulsively.

As far as how to understand this on the "intellectual spectrum" - it is worth noting the famous verse in Shemos 31:3:

וָאֲמַלֵּ֥א אֹת֖וֹ ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֑ים בְּחׇכְמָ֛ה וּבִתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת וּבְכׇל־מְלָאכָֽה

I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft;

Rashi there singles out how to understand wisdom - i.e. that it is what a person hears from others and learns / makes his own. It is not like the other terms used there namely תבונה - something derived from one's own intellect i.e. what he already knows and דעת - something that comes from Ruach Hakodesh.

Now at this juncture it is worth noting that there is a limit to wisdom. Chovos Halevavos, in the 8th chapter which explores examining one's soul, writes as follows:

He said: "Do not be overly wise", since wisdom has a fixed limit which cannot be crossed. The explanation is that all the various branches of wisdom which lead to the service of G-d, guarding His commandments, or demonstrating His wisdom and power - this category is permitted to us, and it is our duty to investigate it, as written: "Behold, the fear of the L-ord is wisdom" (Iyov 28:28), and "The fear of the L-ord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy ones (good deeds/traits) is understanding" (Mishlei 9:10), which means knowledge of G-d, and also: "The fear of the L-ord is the beginning of wisdom" (Tehilim 111:10), and "The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken; lo, they have rejected the word of the L-ord; and what wisdom is in them?" (Yirmiyahu 8:9), and all that is a wisdom outside of this way we mentioned - it is forbidden to study it and investigate after it. Therefore he said: "do not be overly wise".

To put it succinctly, we should explore the paths that will lead to a wisdom that increases our relationship with G-d and His commandments.1 Exploring wisdom that run counter to G-d's path are obviously counter-intuitive and can be damaging in the long run.

Finally, from an anthropomorphic perspective chochmah is regarded as more of a male trait whilst binah (understanding/intuition) is a more feminine characteristic. HaRav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin זצ"ל writes in דובר צדק (last paragraph on page) that binah is a female trait that is rooted in the heart, whilst חכמה, wisdom, belongs to the male consciousness and stems from the brain. Quoting the זוהר he writes, "חכמה ובינה הם אבא ואימא" – “Wisdom and understanding – they are the father (i.e. wisdom) and the mother (i.e. understanding)”.


1 Refer to Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:36 who speaks about how we should be channelling chochmah only for good things, as that is wisdom in the truest sense:

It is also evident that the precepts which exhort and command us to learn and to teach are useful; for without wisdom there cannot be any good act or any true knowledge.

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    This is amazing - many thanks and blessings.
    – Tom W
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:46

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