Word of the Day: Nihye Yoter Hakhamim When Wise Guys Finish Last

Israelis don’t just find out more when the information starts rolling in; they get smarter.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Ensmarten thyself!
Ensmarten thyself!
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

If you can’t make a decision because a critical part of the picture is missing – you won’t know whether to quit your job and book a ticket to California until you find out whether you got into the graduate program you wanted, or the doctor can’t tell you what the next step in treatment should be until the test results come back – you might say in English that you’ll know more when the missing links are filled in.

In Hebrew, though, you don’t just have a better idea of what to do; you actually get smarter.

Click here to get 'Word of the Day' sent directly to your inbox.

“Let’s wait until next week,” you might hear. “Then we’ll be smarter.” In Hebrew, that’s nihye (nee-hee-YEH, “we will be”) yoter hakhamim (yo-TER kha-kha-MEEM, “more smart.”)

As an adjective, hakham means “wise,” “intelligent” or “smart.” It can also be a title referring to a Jewish sage, especially among Sephardi Jews. And the Hakhamim, or Hazal (an acronym for “our sages of blessed memory”), generally refers to the Sages (note the capital “s”), the religious scholars from the Second Temple period to the end of the talmudic era.

Jewish tradition has a lot to say on wisdom. “A wise [hakham] son maketh a glad father,” Proverbs tells us, “but a foolish son is the grief of his mother” (10:1). Ecclesiastes – which, like Proverbs, is said to have been written by Solomon, the king renowned for his wisdom – also contrasts these two figures: “The wise man, his eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness” (2:14.)

But Jeremiah warns that it would be wise not to let wisdom go to one’s head, saying: “Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise man [hakham] glory in his wisdom [behakhmato], neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches” (9:22.)

Sometimes waiting around for more information really is the smartest thing you can do, even if it means that wise guys finish last. “Who is wise?” asks Ethics of the Fathers. “He who learns from all people.”

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Election ad featuring Yair Lapid in Rahat, the largest Arab city in Israel's Negev region.

This Bedouin City Could Decide Who Is Israel's Next Prime Minister

Dr. Claris Harbon in the neighborhood where she grew up in Ashdod.

A Women's Rights Lawyer Felt She Didn't Belong in Israel. So She Moved to Morocco

Mohammed 'Moha' Alshawamreh.

'It Was Real Shock to Move From a Little Muslim Village, to a Big Open World'

From the cover of 'Shmutz.'

'There Are Similarities Between the Hasidic Community and Pornography’

A scene from Netflix's "RRR."

‘RRR’: If Cocaine Were a Movie, It Would Look Like This

Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Yair Lapid's Journey: From Late-night Host to Israel's Prime Minister