Who is wise? Who is strong? Who is rich? Who is honored?
Ben Zoma raises these four questions in the Talmud (Mishnah Avot 4:1). They are matters of great significance, for most of us spend a considerable portion of our lives seeking wisdom, strength, riches (material and/or spiritual), and honor. But we all look at these things differently, and how we define them goes a long way toward shaping how we choose to pursue (or not pursue) them.
Next fall, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I plan to dedicate my four major sermons to these questions. On Rosh Hashanah eve, I will ponder, “Who is wise?” Rosh Hashanah morning will cover, “Who is strong?” and Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur morning will address, respectively, “Who is rich?” and “Who is honored?”
Now for the new, communal angle to this: I am seeking your responses to these questions. Over the next four weeks, I am going to depart from my usual e-Torah format (offering commentary on the weekly Torah portion) to, instead, pose Ben Zoma’s questions to you, my community. Please email your thoughts and responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your insights and answers will inform my fall sermons, making for a more communal experience during the Days of Awe.
Ben Zoma does provide his own answers to his queries, and over the next month’s e-Torah, I will share his responses—but not until a week after I pose each question. For now, suffice to say that Ben Zoma does not accept conventional understandings of these categories.
This week, I hope that you will reflect on these four questions as a whole grouping. Next week, we will begin to consider each, individually, in more detail, starting with “Who is wise?”
Again, please email me with your thoughts and responses.