What's in a Word?

For the week ending 19 December 2020 / 4 Tevet 5781

Miketz: To Be a Wise Guy (Part 2 of 2)

by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
Library Library Library

While the previous essay (Part 1) focused on highlighting the difference between chochmah and tevunah/binah, this week’s essay adds the concept of daat into the fray and looks at all three terms comparatively. If we were to rank the three Hebrew words for “knowledge,” chochmah would be placed at the bottom as the most basic form of wisdom. Everyone agrees that binah and daat denote greater forms of “knowledge” than chochmoh does (see Shemot Rabbah 41:3 and Rashi to Shabbat 31a), but the exact relationship between binah and daat is subject to dispute.

The Mishna (Avot 3:17) teaches that daat depends on binah, and, conversely, binah depends on daat. For the purposes of understanding that Mishna, Rashi and Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura (1445-1515) explain that while binah refers to the ability to derive a new idea from a previous lesson, daat refersto the ability to understand the reasoning behind a given lesson (see also Rashbatz). Accordingly, the Mishna means that if one cannot figure out the rationale behind the first lesson, then one cannot extrapolate from that lesson anything further. And, likewise, if one lacks the ability to extrapolate new ideas from a given lesson, then certainly one cannot deduce the rationale for that lesson. At face value, then, it seems that binah and daat go hand in hand. That said, some sources assert that daat is higher than binah (see Maharsha to Ketuvot 5a), while the Maharal (in Chiddushei Aggadot to Kiddushin 30a, Avodah Zarah 19b and in Tiferet Yisrael ch. 56) teaches that binah is higher than daat.

The Torah reports that when Betzalel was charged with constructing the Tabernacle, G-d bestowed upon him chochmah, tevunah, and daat (Ex. 31:3). In that context, Rashi explains that chochmah refers to wisdom which one hears (i.e. learns) from others, tevunah refers to the ability to understand something new based on information he has already acquired, and daat refers to receiving knowledge through Holy Inspiration (Ruach Hakodesh, i.e. a lower form of prophecy). Rashi’s source for the difference between chochmah and tevunah is a conversation between Rabbi Yosi and Arius (see Sifrei to Deut. 1:13), and he cites the same explanation elsewhere in his commentaries (see Rashi to Deut. 1:13 and Prov. 1:5, and Radak to I Kings 3:12).

The Talmud (Chagigah 12a) teaches that G-d created the world using ten different qualities, the first three of which are chochmah, tevunah and daat. Rashi (there) repeats his approach to the difference betweenchochmah and tevunah, but explains daat in this context as “reconciliation.” Why in this case does Rashi define daat differently than in the case of Betzalel?

Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Burnstein (1946-2017) resolves this issue by explaining that, when taken together, both passages teach one lesson. He explains that the term daat denotes a form of “connection”, thus “knowing” in the Biblical sense is a euphemism for conjugal intimacy (Gen. 4:1) or familial connection (Ruth 2:1). Accordingly, daat consists of connecting all the pieces together and coming out with a final resolution in which everything jibes. In this way, daat refers to “reconciliation,” while at the same time it also denotes knowledge, which one had attained through Divine Inspiration, because that is also a form of connection. Divine Inspiration essentially stems from a person “connecting” himself to G-d, and thereby becoming privy to details that are not visible to the naked eye. Through Divine Inspiration one can see the bigger picture and have access to all the pieces that need to be reconciled. (See Nefesh HaChaim 1:6, who explains that the word daat in the term Eitz HaDaat Tov V’Ra, “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” refers to the forbidden fruit’s ability to bring about the interconnectivity of good and evil. The Vilna Gaon (to Prov. 2:5) similarly explains that daat refers to the dialectic reconciliation of contradictory ideas.)

If daat refers to the ability to connect two separate things, then it also presumes the mechanism by which separation can occur. Indeed, the ritual “separation” between the Sabbath and the work-week (Havdalah) is recited in the prayer for knowledge, as the Rabbis quipped (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5:2): “If there is no daat, from where can there be havdalah (‘separation’)?”

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (19239-1986) writes that the “connection” alluded to in daat represents the nexus of the intellectual and the emotional. He explains that it refers to “connecting” one’s intellectual knowledge with one’s emotions, thus totally internalizing that which he knows. Rabbi Avraham Bedersi HaPenini (a 13th century scholar) also writes that daat is associated with emotions and feelings.

Interestingly, Rabbeinu Yonah (to Avot 3:17) writes that daat refers to the ability to independently think of new ideas. Perhaps he understands that the “connections” denoted by the term daat refer to forging new connections between neurological synapses in the brain, which serve as the biological basis for acquiring new knowledge.

Kabbalists (see Eitz Chaim, Shaar Ha’Amidah ch. 11) have long noted that these three forms of knowledge (chochmah, binah and daat, often abbreviated as ChaBaD), correspond to the first three Sefirot used to describe the ways we perceive G-d’s influence in the world: chesed, gevurah andtiferet. Chesed refers to G-d’s kindness in bestowing upon us an unlimited influx of energy, gevurah denotes our perception of Him sometimes limiting His influence in the world based on our actions, and tiferet refers to the happy medium achieved when He creates a balance between chesed and gevurah.

By this model, chochmah refers to receiving knowledge from others, in accordance with what we have seen throughout this study. Binah, on the other hand,refers to intuiting knowledge based on what one already knows, with only limited input from outside. Daat, then, refers to the balancing act of harmonizing received knowledge with intuited knowledge. It represents the final product that results from taking raw chochmah and processing it through binah. As Rabbi Shaul Levi Mortera (1596-1660) so succinctly writes, chochmah is acquired, binah is natural, and daat is a synthesis of those two possibilities.

Interestingly, Dr. Michael G. Samet (a brother of Ohr Somayach’s Mashgiach Rav Yehuda Samet) told me that he once pointed out to Yale professor Robert J. Sternberg that his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence closely resembles the three types of intelligence we have been discussing, and the latter was quite taken aback by this finding.

In many cases, the Torah refers to all three levels of wisdom/knowledge in tandem (e.g., Ex. 31:3). However, in one particular instance, the absence of daat is quite conspicuous. When Moses warns the Jewish People to adhere to the Torah’s laws and precepts, he says: “And you shall guard them and you shall do them, for it is your wisdom (chochmah) and your insightfulness (binah) in the eyes of the nations, who will hear about all these statutes, and they will say, ‘This great nation is naught but a wise and insightful nation’” (Deut. 4:6). Why does Moses mention chochmah and binah in this passage, but not daat?

Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer accounts for the absence of the word daat in this context by submitting that the non-Jews who are not privy to the contours of the Torah cannot achieve the level of wisdom/knowledge known as daat. They can reach only the levels of chochmah and binah, but they are not able to reach daat. However, his brother, Rabbi Eliyahu Tzion Sofer, infers that even binah cannot be found among the gentiles, as the Midrash in Eicha Rabbah 2:48 teaches: "If somebody tells you there is chochmah among the gentiles, believe him," implying that if one said there either is binah or daat among them, he should not be believed.

Rabbi Y. C. Sofer explains that it is for this reason that when Joseph told Pharaoh to appoint a wise man to oversee storing excess produce for the future years of famine, he said: “And now Pharaoh should see an insightful (navon) and wise (chacham) man and appoint him over the Land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:33). Indeed, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to precisely that position, saying to him, “There is none insightful (navon) and wise (chacham) like you” (Gen. 41:39). In both of these verses, only cognates of chochmah and binah appear, but daat is completely absent. Rabbi Sofer explains that this points to Pharaoh’s inability to reach the level known as daat. Because daat was something beyond Pharaoh’s grasp, Joseph left out that word, and, likewise, Pharaoh’s detachment from daat hindered his ability to see that Joseph was not just a chacham and a navon but also a yodea.

For questions, comments, or to propose ideas for a future article, please contact the author at rcklein@ohr.edu

© 1995-2022 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at ohr@ohr.edu and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions www.ohr.edu

« Back to What's in a Word?

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.