Lollipop on the Floor

This is a guest column by Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal, from Aish Minnesota.  Read Rabbi Da-vid’s Divrei Torah on his blog.
My kids love lollipops. They would eat them all day long if they had the chance.
And they are not even very particular about what happens to the lollipop in the process of consumption. It could drop on the carpet, touch someone’s shoe, even fall on the bathroom floor, and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Now, at some point, as we get older, we recognize that it may not be such a great idea to eat lollipops off the ground. At first, it’s our parents that convince us that it may be wise to abstain. They tell us all about these things called “germs”; how even though we can’t see them, they are still there, and they are not particularly good for us. So we go along with the story whenever they are watching. As the years progress, of our own volition we stop eating them when they fall. Some people even gag at the thought of eating a soiled candy.
This, in a word, is the Jewish definition of wisdom.
In last week’s parsha, there is a verse we say daily in the Aleinu prayer. “Vayadata hayom, vehashevosa el levavecha” – “You shall know it today, and return it to your heart”(Deuteronomy 4,39). This is the Jewish description of wisdom.
Being wise involves more than just amassing a lot of information. Many smart people make very stupid decisions. Smart does not equal wise. Being a walking encyclopedia doesn’t raise your wisdom quotient. Wisdom is about living by the knowledge you recognize to be true. So much so that it effects your emotions.
Lets take another look at the lollipop. When it drops on the bathroom floor, it looks no difference today that it did when you were 2. Yet your emotional reaction is significantly altered. You have managed to integrate the concept of germs to such an extent that it physically affects you. The information has become a part of you. There is no thought process involved – you aren’t thinking in a logical sequence in your brain: “Well, the bathroom floor is probably dirty, and that lollipop just hit the floor, and chances are, there are quite a few germs right now on that lollipop, so I best not eat it”. Rather, you are instantly reacting to a concept deep within you that affects you directly.
The ultimate wisdom is delineated at the end of the verse “…that Hashem is the G-d in Heaven and Earth, there is nothing besides him”. To live with the knowledge of G-d in such a deep way; to have truly internalized the concept of Hashem so deeply that you are emotionally affected by it, that is the highest level of wisdom.
On a more day to day example, a person can “know” that smoking is bad for them, but until they have a heart attack and are lying in hospital, that “knowledge” may never have entered their emotional reality. A person can know that the extra piece of cake is too much, but until they are living with that reality, they are not acting with wisdom.
The struggle of life is to take all those ideas we know to be true, and to integrate them deeply into our lives, make them a part of ourselves, so that we are living in congruency with reality. To be truly wise.
(Image: Eljay)