By Rabbi Lawrence Troster
Most scholars believe that chapter 28 of the Book of Job is a later poetic addition into the text. The poem is nonetheless a beautiful hymn to Wisdom (Hokhmah) and a meditation on how to acquire it. The unknown Wisdom teacher who composed this poem is warning us that we cannot find wisdom in the ingenuity of human activity, which can even encompass the searching the depths of the Earth through the mining of precious metals and jewels.
“Man sets his hand against the flinty rock and overturns mountains by the roots. He carves out channels through rock; his eyes behold every precious thing. He dams up the sources of the streams so that hidden things may be brought to light.” (Job 28:9-11)
The poem is suggesting that the nature of humanity is to seek wisdom in all the wrong places, and to assume that human technology is somehow an expression of understanding. It asks rhetorically:
“But where can wisdom be found; where is the source of understanding? No man can set a value on it; it cannot be found in the land of the living.” (Job 28:12-13)
Real wisdom is not a commodity; it cannot be bought and sold. Only God knows where real wisdom lies: Fear of the Lord which is moral consciousness. From this basic moral foundation, the learning of true wisdom can begin.
The message strikes me as one that is particularly important and poignant in light of what is being done to the Earth with hydraulic fracturing. Energy is the modern world’s most precious commodity on which we all depend. But it is like an addictive drug: We are willing to go to any lengths to find it and we constantly want more and more of it whatever the impact on the natural and human environments. And it is assumed that the search for new energy sources is the wisest course to take as a society. But this is false wisdom and has led to corruption, injustice and ecological degradation.
Where can real Wisdom be found? We must begin with understanding what is right and justice and not try to tear apart the depths of the Earth, overturn mountains and destroy the sources of precious water.
Rabbi Lawrence Troster is the rabbinic scholar-in-residence at GreenFaith and a former member of the Green Zionist Alliance slate for the World Zionist Congress.