Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise? One who learns from every person.
Who is strong? One who subdues their personal inclination.
Who is rich? One who is happy with their lot.
Who is honored? One who honors others.
I have rather heavily edited this wisdom saying in the following ways – substituting “one” and “their” for “his” and leaving out the biblical references for each of the sub-verses. You can easily find the original translation and the biblical references if you are interested in them.
This saying is one of the most profound of all of Pirke Avot and has perhaps the longest amount of commentary on it. Yet it is almost self-explanatory. Perhaps we just don’t want to believe it’s true.
Who is wise? The lifelong learner who treats every person with respect and learns to see situations from the perspectives of others. Often we think a wise person has “arrived” – they know all that they need to know. What is a wise person still learning at the end of life? Not new facts or arguments, something much deeper than that. The truths about life and the world and even God from the perspectives of others that the rest of the world ignores.
Who is strong? One who is in control of himself or herself. In control of one’s passions; of one’s time and effort; of one’s tongue; of one’s will. Not big muscles and six-pack abs – no matter how much the world might think so. The truly strong person is strong in the will and the mind, he/she is not dominated by their passions or emotions or their past. Sensitive to them YES, dominated by them NO.
Who is rich? The one who, as St. Paul said of himself, can live with both abundance and lack. This is not a suggestion that the poor should simply be happy being poor. It is a suggestion that says we must learn to keep things in perspective – and in the long run our possessions will be left to our heirs.
Who is honored? One who can honor and respect and lift up others.
This is a very important saying overall. Something our political and other leaders ought to ponder. And so should we. What do we aspire to? Where are we putting our time and energy?