Halacha for Friday 3 Tevet 5784 December 15 2023

Parashat Miketz

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

When Insight Precedes Wisdom and a Conundrum Solved Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra z”l (1089/92-1164/67)

This Shabbat we shall read about Paro’s dreams and their interpretations by Yoseph, who merited to be released from prison specifically for this purpose. According to Yoseph there are destined to come seven years of great plenty and immediately after them, seven years of famine. To the extent that the years of great plenty will be totally forgotten. As such, Yoseph advises Paro to overcome the impending situation, Appoint an insightful and wise man, who will amass grain and prepare the people ahead of the years of famine.

The Torah states, “Now Paro must seek out a man with insight and wisdom, and place him in charge of Egypt” (Bereishit 41:33). The order of the advice in the passuk is that Yoseph said to choose a man who is both “insightful and wise”, an astonishing requirement. Since the requirement to be “wise” encompasses the knowledge that rests and is amassed in the brain of a person. Whereas the concept of “insight” is “the understanding of new wisdom, deduced from existing wisdom”, often coined by people as “understanding one concept from another”.

Based on these definitions, it is obvious to all that “wisdom” proceeds “insight”. For without understanding the first thing (wisdom), it is impossible to extrapolate further knowledge (insight). And so, we say in our prayers, “and grace us from You, wisdom, insight and Divine inspiration [some define the latter as the ability to correctly distinguish between things]”.

In the work “Tziyunei Derech” he explains that although wisdom proceeds insight, this only applies to existing wisdom that may be already found and known in the world, based on life experiences  and knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. And in that way an insightful person can increase wisdom to their already gained wisdom.

But regarding knowledge that was hitherto unknown in the world and was only developed as novelle now, with no prior knowledge of it and no life experience of it, no wise person can know how to assist in such a matter. In these circumstances, one must find someone who from the outset  is “insightful”, with talent and creative ability to explore, find and create. Only afterwards is such a person required to be wise and well-versed in the way of the world to correctly apply their creative ability.

Indeed, this is what we find with Yoseph, that he revealed in the dream’s interpretation that there is going to be a “new world-order” of seven continuous years of famine, a situation hitherto unknown since the creation of the world. In such a case no existing wisdom will help, unless the ability to be “insightful” pre-exists and therefore that persons knows how to form a solution to the destructive situation, never previously experienced. And only afterwards to be also “wise”, to help materialise the solution that they devised due to their great insight. Therefore, Yoseph said to Paro, to find a man who is “insightful and wise” (first insightful and then wise).

An example of an insightful and wise man is found in Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra z”l (1089/92-1164/67). It is related that in his day two men were travelling and one had a satchel with two loaves of bread and the other had three loaves in his satchel. They sat down to eat and suddenly a third man appeared asking to join them. The three sat to eat the five loaves. At the end of the meal the guest produced five gold coins and paid for his meal.

A dispute erupted between the two men. The owner of the three loaves argued that he is entitled to three gold coins since he provided three loaves, whereas his fellow is only entitled to two gold coins since he provided just two loaves.

But his friend argued that the coins should be divided equally because the guest ate from the bread that was in front of him without paying any attention whose loaves he ate.

Each one argued his case until they decided to bring the matter to Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra. Rabbi Avraham heard their claims whilst pondering silently and ruled: The owner of the three loaves shall receive four gold coins whilst the owner of the two loaves shall receive just one gold coin.

The claimants heard his ruling and were astonished, how can this be? The Rav ruled for one more than he had claimed for himself!

Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra saw their astonishment and explained, it is agreed by all parties that three people ate five loaves. Let’s divide each of the five loaves into three pieces, producing fifteen pieces. Thus, each person ate five pieces.

Accordingly, the owner of two loaves provided six pieces, he ate five and provided one other to the guest, so he should receive one gold coin. Whereas the owner of the three loaves, provided nine pieces, he ate five and provided four for the guest, so he is entitled to four gold coins!

Shabbat Shalom!

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