Wednesday, April 15, 2015

More precious than rubies

I just wanted to share with you a bible verse that popped into my head today:
Happy is the one who finds wisdom,
The one who gains understanding
For its fruits are better than silver
Its yield greater than fine gold
It is more precious than rubies
No treasure can match it.
Note: You may be surprised to see the bible quoted in my blog, dear reader(s?). I assure you this post has nothing to do with God or faith or anything like that. I post this quote as I might a verse from a pop song that resonates with me, and the rest of this post is not about the quote itself, but how it came to be knocking around in my head.

The above passage is from Proverbs 3:13-15. That link uses the New International Version (NIV) of the bible, which is the default translation for the website ( The one I transcribed above is how I remember it, and I found it quoted in an academic handbook after Googling "more precious than rubies." I read this text for the first time (and then over and over, year after year) in my childhood synagogue's prayer book. It has stuck with me all these years because it praises knowledge, not God. It also places the value of knowledge over that of wealth (a point it really drives home, as if speaking to the Jewish stereotype). Now, if you read the preceding verses, this is totally demeaned because it warns you against thinking for yourself, and admonishes you to only trust in the Lord, but let's forget we learned that (besides, I think the prayer book takes it out of context anyway).

Growing up Jewish, I had no concept of where specific bible verses came from. Of course there would be a reading from the Torah, and that reading would be the one that follows the one they'd read the previous week. There would also be a Haftarah reading linked thematically to the Torah portion. All of this went down in Hebrew, of course, and I was a child, so if there were ever any geographical markers (like in church, when they announce the book, chapter, and verse before they begin reading), I missed them. I remember learning that the entirety of the our religious texts consist of the Torah, and two other parts called blah blah and blah blah but let's focus on the Torah portion for your bar mitzvah (oh yeah, and the Haftarah portion, which I only now know from research comes from one of the other blah blahs).

Even in a Reform Jewish temple such as the one I went to growing up, the Torah is read as it is written: in Hebrew. We were encouraged to learn the English translation of our bar/bat mitzvah Torah portion so we could talk intelligently about for a few minutes from the bimah, but the focus was on the Hebrew, a language many of us learned to read, but not understand.

Everything in the service that wasn't the Torah, or the Haftarah, or the calendar of events or the fundraising ask, was in the prayer book, and that's where (I think) the above passage from Proverbs lives. The books we used were Gates of Prayer (on Shabbat) and Gates of Repentance (on the High Holy Days), and yet I can't locate the passage in either of those on Google Books (even if I reduce the search to simply, "rubies"). Even though I can't tie the anointment of wisdom back to where I originally found it, I can now trace it back to its source, which is Proverbs 3:13-15, in "the poetic books" of the Ketuvim, also known as "Writings," or in my previous description, the second of the two blah blahs.

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