Skip to main content

Don't Ask Google, Ask Grandma

Rabbi Ben Zoma asks, “Who is wise?” He answers his own question and responds. “The person who learns from every human being.” (Avot 4)

I am thinking about Ben Zoma and his teaching these days. Every day we read about the arrogance of tech wizards. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, to name but two, seem to believe that the unparalleled successes of Tesla and Facebook make them experts in every manner of things.

Will they learn? There is something to be said for leaning into the expertise of others. No one is expert in everything. Even starting a phenomenal company does not mean you can take over and improve another. Even creating a platform for over a billion users does not mean it will be used for good or that people will prefer the metaverse over the real world.

Experience matters. Years and years of living, and working, offer wisdom. There is something to be said for leaning into the experience of those older than us.

That is our tradition’s posture. Consult first what was said, and taught, long ago.

This week we read about Abraham and Sarah’s deaths. Sarah dies at 127 years and Abraham at the age of 175. He is called zakein which is usually translated as old. That makes sense because 175 is old by anyone’s measure. The rabbis, however, suggest that the Hebrew letters spelling out zakein, namely zayin, koof and nun point to an acronym, zeh kanah hokhmah—this one has acquired wisdom. In our tradition’s view old is synonymous with wise.

The older the book the better. The older the person the more wise.

I love gadgets and technology, but they are not wise. Even the smartest of gadgets is rendered stupid if there is no power or internet.

Soon we will be gathering around our Thanksgiving tables. Rather than scrolling through the latest TikTok videos or Instagram posts, perhaps we should drink in the wisdom of those gathered around us. Instead of asking Google to solve a debate swirling around our tables. Ask an elder. Listen to others.

Who is wise? The person who learns from every human being.