Mishlei teaches us that there are two major aspects to the process of acquiring Torah wisdom. One is the faithful study by which a person learns the laws and principles of the Torah from written sources and wise teachers. The other is the patient and energetic analysis of the wisdom that has been learned. This is then used to develop new insights and a deeper understanding of the concepts underlying the previously gained wisdom. It is by exercising this understanding that he can effectively apply his wisdom to deal with day to day events in life.
To help us visualize these two complementary aspects of learning Torah, Mishlei compares them to precious metals. The basic received wisdom is compared to gold and the deeper wisdom of understanding is compared to silver. In either case, wisdom is valued for the way it is acquired and utilized, that is, for the benefit it brings to mankind.
טז = קְנֹה חָכְמָה מַה טּוֹב מֵחָרוּץ וּקְנוֹת בִּינָה נִבְחָר מִכָּסֶף
(16) How much better it is to acquire wisdom than gold,
and acquiring understanding is preferable to silver!
Gold is valued by mankind for its beauty and durability. Because of that value it is treasured as a permanent store of value that is always available when needed.
In contrast, silver coins lack the durability and concentrated value of gold, but because silver is less expensive than gold it has long served as an effective medium of exchange. Thus, received wisdom is like gold, which conveys the idea of trusted permanent value. The wisdom of understanding is like silver which can more easily be earned and spent in exchange for the products that are needed in everyday life.
The value of wisdom is a central concept of Mishlei and is explored in a number of pesukim. In Mishlei Segment 03-13 (v. 3:14), the investment of time and effort into wisdom is compared to investments in silver and gold. The point is that ultimately, nothing brings as many benefits to mankind as wisdom.
In Segment 08-01 (v. 8:10 and 8:11) wisdom is compared on a rising scale of value to silver, gold, and pearls. The desirability of wisdom exceeds each of these materials, one more attractive than the other.
(16) To acquire wisdom — קְנֹה חָכְמָה
How much better it is than gold — מַה טּוֹב מֵחָרוּץ
for wisdom endures even longer
than gold and is more trusted.
And acquiring understanding, — וּקְנוֹת בִּינָה
is preferable to silver — נִבְחָר מִכָּסֶף
because silver enables access to needed
products whereas understanding makes
the wisdom of the Torah accessible.
(1) The value of wisdom was also suggested in Segment 16-14 above, where it is shown how a wise man is able to appease a king’s anger. (רבינו יונה)
(2) This proverb emphasizes the importance of making a personal effort to acquire wisdom קְנֹה חָכְמָה)) in contrast to gold or silver which are commodities granted by the blessing of Hashem. (בני שלמה)
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