A co-worker posted this as her "Quote of the Day" in an e-mail message. It's attributed to Shlomo ibn Gabirol:

The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others.

A Google search revealed that this quote is indeed passed around. But, does Shlomo ibn Gabirol actually say this (in his native tongue), and if so, in what work? I'm familiar with his work, Mibchar ha-Peninim (מבחר הפנינים), but none of his others. I also know that he wrote the majority of his works in Arabic.

Does anyone have the original quote and the source of the quote?

1 Answer 1


The quote actually comes from Mivchar HaP'ninim, which was written originally in Arabic, then translated into Hebrew by Judah ibn Tibbon (father of the famous translator of Maimonides' "Guide", Samuel ibn Tibbon). Perhaps one reason why a quote such as the one you saw became popular was due to the publication of an English version of the book (available here) in 1859 under the title "A Choice of Pearls", translated by B. H. Ascher.

The first chapter of the book is concerning the nature of wisdom, written in the style of questions asked to a wise man and his pearls of wisdom offered in return. One of the the wise man's sayings is:

.ואמר תחלת החכמה שתיקה. שניה לה שמיעה .שלישית זכרון. רביעית מעשה. חמישית מורה

Ascher translates this as:

The first step to wisdom is silence; the second attention; the third memory ; the fourth activity; the fifth study.

This translation is similar to the quote you have above, except for the fifth step, in which Ascher translates "מורה" as "study", which is not how I would translate it, which would be more in line with your version: "teaching". [I have no access to the original Arabic, nor would I understand it even if I did, so I'm trusting Ibn Tibbon's translation.] It's odd, because in the Hebrew footnotes he compares with manuscripts that have "למורה" as the last word, which he clearly understands to mean "to teach others". Also, he cites one manuscript that has "מודה" (~"acknowledgment") instead of "מורה", in which case the fifth step would be something like "acknowledge the truth".

  • The difference between מודה and מורה seems to be a scribal error as a result of confusion between ד and ר. As I'm sure you know, such confusion was even common in the Tanakh. Great answer btw.
    – user2088
    Apr 7, 2013 at 20:52

You must log in to answer this question.