“Wisdom is better than rubies, and all things desirable are not to be compared unto her” (Proverbs 8:2).
Rabbi Aha explained in the name of Rabbi Tanhuma ben Rabbi Hiya: “My desirable things and your desirable things are not to be compared to her.”
Wisdom that comes with the knowledge of and the fear of G-d stands higher than material wealth as it is the foundation of all great deeds.
The Priceless Merchandise
Once a sage boarded a ship to travel to a distant land. Aboard the ship were many merchants who proudly displayed their wares. One merchant had the finest silks, another the widest varieties of spices, and another diamonds and jewelry.
Seeing the sage standing empty-handed, people on the ship asked him, “What are your wares?”
“I have the finest of all merchandise,” he replied. “Mine is far more superior to any of your goods. I deal in knowledge and wisdom.”
The merchants all laughed at him. “Your knowledge will be a fine comfort to any empty and hungry belly!” they jeered.
The sage replied, “You will see who is right.”
In the middle of the voyage, a terrible storm arose and the ship began to sink. They all barely managed to scramble aboard a lifeboat. They had to leave everything behind them, their treasures and even their clothes. The lifeboat was washed up on a shore in a distant land, where the people ignored them and didn’t even care to give them food.
The sage, however, entered a beit midrash and soon the people became aware that there was a great man amongst them. They gave him honor and riches and people came from afar to hear his words of wisdom.
The merchants who had been reduced to beggars visited the sage and pleaded with him, “Please intercede for us with the officials of this city to provide us with a means to survive. Tell them that we are not paupers but we were once prosperous merchants. Otherwise we will starve.”
The sage remonstrated with them, “Did I not tell you before that my merchandise is more valuable than yours? Your merchandise can be lost or stolen, whereas mine can never be lost. ‘A priceless give I have give you’” (Proverbs 4:2).
Greater Than G-d
Rabbi Jose ben Kisma once told the following story:
“Once I was walking along the road when a man stopped me and greeted me.”
“‘Peace unto you,’ he said.
“I returned the salutation, ‘Peace unto you.’
“He then said to me, ‘Rebbe, what place do you come from?’
“‘From a city of sages and scribes,’ I replied.
“‘Rebbe,’ he said to me, ‘If it will be your pleasure to dwell with us in our place, I will give you a million golden dinars, precious stones and pearls.’
“I said to him, ‘If you will give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I will not dwell anywhere except in a place of Torah For in the hour of departure of a man from the world, he is not accompanied by gold or silver, or precious stones, but by good deeds alone.’
“As it is said, ‘When you walk, it shall lead you, and when you lie down, it shall watch over you, and when you awake it shall talk with you’ (Proverbs 6:22). And thus, it is written in the Book of Psalms (119:72), ‘The law of Your mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver coins.’ And it also says, ‘Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, said the L-rd of Hosts’” (Chaggai 2:8).