To understand this middah, we have to take a bit of an Indiana Jones trip to the ancient usage of this word and the world that surrounded that usage. Simply stated, “binah” means “understanding”, but interestingly enough the Greek speaking Jews of the 2nd and 3rd centuries bce translated it in a remarkable fashion. They translated it as “phronesis” which has the sense of “practical wisdom” or “prudence”. That by itself is not particularly captivating but what is stunning about this is that “phronesis” was a word with some very powerful associations in the Greek speaking world. This word was in fact the chief of the four cardinal virtues articulated by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. So, any Greek speaker of the ancient world that read a Tanakh passage discussing “binah”, found him or herself reading a Jewish analysis of one of the most important ideas of the Greek philosophical world! And what does the Tanakh have to say about this supreme of virtues?
Here is one insight: “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding (binah); I have strength” (Proverbs 8:14). What the Tanakh lays out for us is a road map to practical wisdom, wisdom that can be applied to our lives’ complicated situations. We must start by reading, listening or observing counsel from sources we trust. Then, we move to sound wisdom which means we actually give the advice a try to understand how it works in our own reality. When we do, we’ve internalized that wisdom and made it our “binah”. We’ll know we’ve been successful because we will feel strength, as the end of the verse describes, to navigate through issues with greater insight and benevolence.
מחשבה/Think about it– This week, notice an issue you have a challenge with, whether it’s dealing with a difficult personality, drinking too much coffee, whatever it may be. Find someone to discuss with and hear advice from. This could even be reading an article on the subject or listening to a radio/podcast program that discusses it. Take a few minutes each day to ponder that advice.
מעשה/Try it– Take the next step and give the advice a try, tweak it as you go and journal about the process. This can go past the week of this middah until you’ve developed your personal “binah” on the issue you chose.