‘Who is wise? The one who learns from all people’

The north London night sky in November. Picture: André Langlois

The north London night sky in November - Credit: André Langlois

I would like to say something about the importance of getting advice, of consulting, of talking to others. We are all born into a social web of life, and so going it alone is not an option for most of us. But we often find it hard to let other people, even those close to us into our challenges, issues, difficulties and dilemmas.
The 2,000-year-old foundational Jewish text, the Talmud has a saying “partnership or death”.
This does sound a bit extreme, although the partnership being discussed there is one of learning and studying. 
But the idea maybe is that life is enriched, is deepened by the bringing on board of the approach of another.
Of course you will filter this external approach through your own subjective way of looking at life.

Rabbi David Mason. Picture: Muswell Hill Synagogue

Rabbi David Mason admits it is often hard to let other people into our challenges - Credit: Muswell Hill Synagogue

But you will grow and develop through this process.
In the story of Creation, when God is about to create Adam, the first person in the Bible, He utters the famous words: “Let us make man in our image.” 
The only issue here is that it seems that only God exists at that time.
Our tradition tells us that God here was consulting with the angels that did in fact exist.
So the Almighty, Creator of all, turns to others and consults before creating Adam, the first person. And what a decision that would be!
But this introduces the importance of humility here – for a believing individual, the fact that God consults should logically mean that we as humans are being bid here to consult.
That even if we feel that expert in a certain area of knowledge, it would still benefit us to ask others. An old Jewish saying goes: “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”
But we must mention also that the time to consult with others is when we are depressed. There is no shame in being depressed, it happens to a significant proportion of people.
In this unique and turbulent time of pandemic, we will feel low and we may have real cause to. It is at that point that consulting, sharing, talking can get us through. The religious person inside me would say, if God can do it, then so must we!

  • David Mason is rabbi of Muswell Hill Synagogue and chairman Haringey Multi-Faith Society.

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