When some of us visited Israel in 2006, we saw photos of a Jewish Rabbi on the windows and walls of many public places and asked our tour guide about this. She told us that it was a photo of the Lubavitcher “Rebbe” who died about 12 years before and who was thought by many to be the Messiah spoken of by the prophets. His real surname was Schneerson and he is considered as one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th Century and up to this very day there are still many in Israel who do not believe that he actually had died. Among many other titles and achievements, the “Rebbe” was the leader of the very influential, hasidic Chabad movement, with branches and outreach activities, all over the world, especially in the United States. The death of the Rebbe has caused quite a stir and even confusion within the ranks of the Chabad movement – so much so that after his passing, no one has yet been appointed in his place as the overall leader of Chabad. But the movement is still pretty much alive and there is a Chabad website and plenty of additional information on the internet, on what Chabad is doing and what it stands for.
The interesting fact about the chabad movement is that the word “CHaBaD” is an acronym that comes from three well-known Biblical words, “Chochmah” (wisdom), “binah” (understanding) and “da’at” (knowledge). Two of these words, chochmah and binah, appears twice in the Torah reading portion of this week. In Gen 41:33 Yoseph, having revealed the meaning of the Pharaoh’s dream, told him: “And now, let Pharaoh look for a discerning (Hebrew word related to “binah”) and wise (Hebrew word related to “chochmah”) man, and set him over the land of Mitsrayim.” And in Gen 41:39, Pharoah, having consulted his counsellors about someone who was “discerning and wise” came back to Yoseph and said to him: “Since Elohim has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you (I want YOU to be this man)”. Why dit Yoseph not include the attribute of “da’at” (knowledge) when he spoke to the Pharoah?
Some of the Jewish rabbis have suggested that the three-fold combination of “wisdom, understanding and knowledge” is something that will only be found in those who are filled with the Spirit of Yahweh. A good example is Betsal’el (Ex 31:3 “I have filled him with the Spirit of Elohim in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge”). Yoseph knew that Pharoah, not being filled with the Spirit of Yahweh, did not himself possess all of these qualities and would therefore not be able to understand the impact of all three, or identify them all in Yoseph. This, despite the fact that Pharaoh himself announced to his servants in Gen 41:38, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the Spirit of Elohim?” For this reason, Yoseph mentioned only two of the three.
We are finding ourselves within the period of the eight days of Chanukah at the moment. The interesting fact about Chanukah is that while all the other feasts (except Yom Kippur) are usually focusing quite heavily on festive meals, Chanukah focuses mainly on the lighting of the candles of the nine-armed menorah – according to a pattern whereby on each consecutive day, one more candle is lighted, so that the volume of light increases every day. What is the symbolism behind this tradition? The light that is seen in a menorah symbolizes, among other things, wisdom, understanding and knowledge. When it comes to these three qualities, Yahweh the Almighty is the only one possessing all of these qualities, in the fullest sense of the word. Lighting one more candle each day, for a period of eight days, is a way of demonstrating that we need (and want) to grow in our wisdom, understanding and knowledge, towards fullness and completeness (symbolized by the number eight). Using the word “wisdom” as an umbrella term for all three qualities, we need to understand that Yahweh’s wisdom is so much more and greater than the wisdom sought after in this world. Man-made philosophies accept only those ideas that make sense to human intelligence. Anything that can not be understood by the intellect is out.
The world-view that is revealed in Scriptures, goes far beyond this limited understanding and Chanukah, and what it represents, is a proof of this. Humanly speaking, there was only enough oil to keep the lamps in the temple burning for one day. This was during the time of the Maccabees and Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek (often nicknamed “The Wicked”) in the Second Century, before Messiah. Miraculously, the oil lasted for 8 days and allowed a handful of faithful Jews to restore some of the temple practices that the Greeks had tried to destroy. This was seen and perceived as a victory of Light over Darkness. Even if all the detail with regards to this event cannot be verified beyond any doubt today, this is only ONE example among numerous others, throughout the centuries of the history of this world, in which Yahweh took notice of the hardship of his followers, hearing their prayers and their pleas, and intervened in ways that cannot always be explained by human logic and by natural laws. Within our own history, I believe that we need to recognize these kind of events, like the contentious victory of Blood River, some 180 years ago, which is also due to be remembered, in less than two weeks’ time. Why do we keep on stumbling over the black/white issue and fail to see that it was just one more example of Yahweh answering the prayers of ordinary people who put their trust in Him? Indeed, Yahweh is exalted above all forms of human limitations and strife and intellect, higher than any level of wisdom and knowledge that we as feeble human beings love to toss at one another, claiming that we know it all and understand how all things are supposed to work. But we tend to forget the truth of Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are My ways,” declares Yahweh.
Let us briefly look at the three “wisdom” words again. Related to the first word, “chochmah”, is the word “chacham” which is translated as “wise man”. The Mishna asks, “Who is a chacham?” and answers, “One who learns from all people.” This is already one step beyond the normal and natural understanding of the concept of wisdom. Normally one would be inclined to say that a wise person is someone who is able to teach others. The scope of this concept is broadened, however, by the insight that a “chacham” is a student who makes his teacher wiser, without even trying, not so much a teacher who tries to make his student wiser. The word “chochmah” incudes a smaller word “choche” that is about “waiting” and “anticipating” and even this aspect of “waiting (to receive)” goes beyond the typical “waiting to teach a lesson” that marks the wisdom of this world. The “waiting” aspect of wisdom is also about taking one’s time to decide which is the smart way of doing, rather than the natural or the expected way of doing.
The second wisdom-word, “binah” (understanding) is another interesting word. It comes from a Hebrew concept that has the meaning of “someone who understands one matter from the context of another matter”. What this means is that the person in which this quality is found, will normally be able to derive new ideas from a lesson he or she had previously learned. The Hebrew word “bein”, meaning “between”, is also related to this word. In this sense, if someone has true understanding, he or she can look at two ore more sets of information and pinpoint both the similarities and differences between those sets of information. The concept of “banah” (to build) is also related to this. If you have understanding in a certain field, you should be able to take a concept of that field and build upon it in a way that can help you to understand other concepts, as well. Interestingly, the words for rock (“even”) and “straw” (“teven”) are also related to this word, “binah”. The apostle Shaúl, having spoken about the differences between the wisdom of Yahweh and the wisdom of this world, in 1 Corinthians, chapters 1 and 2, continues in 1 Corinthians 3, saying that no one is able to lay any other foundation except the foundation of Y’shua Messiah (1 Cor 3:11). And then, in the very next verse, 1 Cor 3:12, he says that people need to build on this foundation, but they choose to use different building materials – some use gold and silver and stone or rock (“even”), but others prefer to use straw (“teven”). Those of his readers who knew Hebrew, knew that he was actually referring to different kinds of understanding that, in the end, could make a world of difference!
The third wisdom-word, “da’at” (knowledge), when used in Scriptures, normally does not refer to any kind of knowledge but specifically the knowledge of Yahweh’s Word, together with the desire to integrate this knowledge into one’s own life. Purely from the perspective of human intellect, people may accept the existence of an Almighty, the fact that He is one and the fact that He is eternal. But normally they will deny what is called his “micro-management”, that is, his commandments, what He said about a Day of rest, about the feasts, about unclean foods, and so forth. If He is as great and as important as we make Him out to be, they would say, what would He care whether we keep Shabbat or not, whether we observe the feasts or not or whether we prefer beef over pork? Da’at is about this micro-management – the intimate knowledge of the deep sense of the words of Yahweh, combined with the understanding that our perception of right and wrong has to be aligned with the way it is presented to us in the Word of Yahweh. Quite simply, there is no other way.
Ya’akov 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good behaviour his works in meekness of wisdom.