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The Four Labors of Wisdom: Rational Judgment



The Four Labors of Wisdom: Rational Judgment
By
James Scott Trimm



In our previous articles we cited the following passage from The Wisdom of Solomon concerning the “Four Labors of Wisdom” also known as the “Four Virtues”:

5  If riches are a desirable possession in life,
what is richer than wisdom who effects all things?
6  And if understanding is effective,
who more than she is fashioner of what exists?
7  And if any one loves righteousness,
her labors are virtues;
for she teaches self-control and prudence,
justice and courage;
nothing in life is more profitable for men than these.
(Wisdom of Solomon 8:5-7 RSV)

In another article we learned about Philo’s Midrash on Genesis 2:10 which teaches that generic virtue goes out as an unceasing and everlasting flow from the Word (logos) of Elohim to increase and nourish specific virtues in the souls of those that love Elohim and that from there generic virtue is marked off by fixed boundaries as prudence (rational judgment), courage, self-control, and justice and that each of these is a ruler and a queen that helps us to rule over our passions.

The Fourth Book of Maccabees (which has sometimes been titled “On the Supremacy of Reason) we learn much more about these four Labors of Wisdom, or “virtues” which 4Maccabees calls “Four Kinds of Wisdom”:

Now the kinds of wisdom are rational judgment, justice, courage, and self-control.
(4Macc. 1:18)

4Maccabees goes on to say:

Rational judgment is supreme over all of these, since by means of it reason (Logos) rules over the emotions.
(4Macc. 1:19)

This agrees with Philo’s midrash on Gen. 2:10 that generic virtue goes out as an unceasing and everlasting flow from the Word (logos) of Elohim to increase and nourish the Four Virtues in our souls.

It is difficult to fully distinguish “rational judgment” (or as some translate “prudence”) as one of the Four Labors of Wisdom (or “virtues”) from “Reason” (Logos) which is “leader over the virtues” (4Macc. 1:30) and which nurtures the virtues within us.  

The Scriptures deftly portray rational thought as a virtue.  In Isaiah 1:18 YHWH says "let us reason together" and in Isaiah 43:26 "let us argue our case together; State your cause, that you may be proved right."  Kefa (1Peter) urges us saying:

…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
(1Pt. 3:15).  

Even the Scientific Method owes is origins to Scripture which says:

Test all things, hold fast to what is good.
(1The. 5:21)

In Genesis 15:6 we read concerning Avraham:

“And he believed in YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6)

The official Targum to this verse paraphrases:

 “And he believed in the Word (Memra) of YHWH. And He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Onkelos)

And Targum Psedo-Jonathan has:

“And he believed in YHWH, and had faith in the Word (Memra) of YHWH, and He reckoned it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

Philo of Alexandria made a very interesting comment about this verse (Gen. 15:6):

It is best, therefore, to trust in God, and not in uncertain reasoning, or unsure conjectures. "Abraham trusted in the Lord, and it was counted to him for Righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) And Moses governed the people, being testified to that he was faithful with his whole house. But if we distrust our own reason (LOGOS, Word), we shall prepare and build ourselves a city of the mind which will destroy the truth.”
(Philo of Alexandria; Allegorical Interpretation, III, 228)

Of course we know that the Torah is the Word of YHWH (Is. 1:10; 2:3) and of course we know that Messiah is the incarnation of the Word (Jn. 1:1-3, 14; Rev. 19:13), a point which the first century Alexandrian Jew Philo of Alexandria also makes when he writes:

“The head of all things is the eternal Word (Logos) of the eternal God, under which, as if it were his feet or other limbs, is placed the whole world, over which He passes and firmly stands. Now it is not because Messiah is Lord that He passes and sits over the whole world, for His seat with His Father and God but because for its perfect fullness the world is in need of the care and superintendence of the best ordered dispensation, and for its own complete piety, of the Divine Word (Logos), just as living creatures (need) a head, without which it is impossible to live.”
(Q&A on Exodus, II, 117)

Although Philo’s native language was Greek and the Septuagint was his Bible, he was clearly aware, directly or indirectly, of the reading of the Targums to this verse, or at least a general tradition that in this verse Avraham’s faith is in the “Word” (Aramaic: Memra; Greek Logos).  

Philo is telling us that the “Word” is also “reason” or “logic” (our English word “Logic” is actually derived from the Greek word LOGOS).

The Torah and the Messiah are one. When we study Torah, the Wisdom of Torah gestates in our Understanding and gives birth to Knowledge of Torah. This is what is meant by having the Torah in our inward parts. Since the Torah and the Messiah are one, this is also having the Messiah within us. The Messiah within us is a spark of YHWH within us, a second soul. While our animal soul has an inclination to do evil, this second soul has an inclination to do good. This helps us to overcome our evil inclination. This occurs as Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge of Torah within us flows from our mind down to our emotions, resulting in a love for Elohim that inclines us to keep the positive commandments, and an awe for Elohim that inclines us not to violate the negative commandments.  In this way our mind is elevated above our emotions.

As we read in the Tanya of the Rebbe Zalman (the first Rebbe of Chabad):

Similarly is it with the human soul, which is divided in two— sechel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes). The intellect includes chochmah, binah and da’at (ChaBaD), whilst the middot are love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth. ChaBaD [the intellectual faculties] are called "mothers" and source of the middot, for the latter are "offspring" of the former.

The explanation of the matter is as follows:

The intellect of the rational soul, which is the faculty that conceives any thing, is given the appellation of chochmah—כ"ח מ"ה— the "potentiality" of "what is." When one brings forth this power from the potential into the actual, that is, when [a person] cogitates with his intellect in order to understand a thing truly and profoundly as it evolves from the concept which he has conceived in his intellect, this is called binah. These [chochmah and binah] are the very "father" and "mother" which give birth to love of G-d, and awe and dread of Him.

(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)

and:

Now, when an intellect conceives and comprehends a concept with its intellectual faculties, this intellect grasps the concept and encompasses it. This concept is [in turn] grasped, enveloped and enclothed within that intellect which conceived and comprehended it.

The mind, for its part, is also clothed in the concept at the time it comprehends and grasps it with the intellect. For example, when a person understands and comprehends, fully and clearly, any halachah (law)... his intellect grasps and encompasses it and, at the same time, is clothed in it. ...now therefore, when a person knows and comprehends with his intellect such a verdict in accordance with the law... he has thus comprehended, grasped and encompassed with his intellect the will and wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, Whom no thought can grasp, nor His will and wisdom, except when they are clothed in the laws that have been set out for us. [Simultaneously] the intellect is also clothed in them [the Divine will and wisdom].

This is a wonderful union, like which there is none other, and which has no parallel anywhere in the material world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, could be attained.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 5)

Thus Rational thought allows us to come into harmony with the mind of Elohim.  Our faith in Torah is rooted in Logic, and one important aspect of the Word is rational thought, logic.  Philo is telling is that Avraham’s faith was also rooted in logic.  It was faith in the Word… faith in rational thought.  If we cast rational thought aside, we will find ourselves not having faith in YHWH but instead creating subjective constructs of our own imagination.  

COMING SOON:  The Four Labors of Wisdom: Self Control

 
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