The Midrash’s inquiry into the nature of wisdom is, of course, related to the fact that Betzalel is granted special wisdom and ingenuity to construct the Mishkan and many of its holy vessels.
וָאֲמַלֵּ֥א אֹת֖וֹ ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֑ים בְּחָכְמָ֛ה וּבִתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת וּבְכָל־מְלָאכָֽה׃
“And I will fill him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge of every kind of craft” (Exodus 31:3)
Midrash Tanchuma derives from the word וָאֲמַלֵּ֥א: “And I will fill him with” an implication that Bezalel had intellectual gifts to start with. God simply added to what was already there.
Shouldn’t wisdom be granted to the fool?
The Midrash relates a conversation between Rabbi Yosé the son of Halafta and a Roman Noblewoman who questions the wisdom of granting wisdom to the wise. She reasoned that surely the fool needs it more.
In classic Jewish form, Rabbi Yosé the son of Halafta answered her question with a question:
. אִםיָבוֹאוּ אֶצְלֵךְ שְׁנַיִם, אֶחָד עָנִי וְאֶחָד עָשִׁיר, וְהֵןצְרִיכִין לִלְווֹת מִמֵּךְ מָמוֹן, לְאֵי זֶה מֵהֶם אַנְתְּ מַלְוָה. אָמְרָה לוֹ: לֶעָשִׁיר. אָמַר לָהּ: וְלָמָּה. אָמְרָה לוֹ: שֶׁאִם יֶחְסַר, יִהְיֶה לוֹ מָמוֹן שֶׁיִפְרָע. אֲבָל עָנִי, אִם יְאַבֵּד מְעוֹתַי, מֵהֵיכָן יִפְרָע.
“If two men came to you to borrow money, one of them being poor and the other rich, to whom would you lend the money?’ She answered: ‘I would lend the money to the rich man, of course. Why?’ he asked. And she replied: ‘If the rich man should suffer a loss, he would still have sufficient money to repay me, but if the poor man lost my money, how could he possibly repay me?’”
Rabbi Yosé told the noblewoman that she answered her own question. Fools would squander the gift of wisdom on street corners or bathhouses while the wise would spread wisdom in houses of worship and study halls.
Is this analogy satisfying for those who are not from the Roman aristocracy
Rabbi Yosé’s answer made perfect sense to the noblewoman who, perhaps, shares the exploitive world view of the Roman empire and sees the value in avoiding delinquent loans. Yet the Torah has a radically different perspective on loaning money to the poor. The Midrash emphasizes that our money belongs to God. It is on loan to us as a test of what we will do with it. If we don’t lend to the poor, God can just as easy turn the tables and make the rich, poor.
Wisdom is a gift from God
A commentary on Midrash Tanchuma, Be-er Ha-amorim, shows how Rabbi Yosé’s analogy provides an accurate and profound insight into the nature of Wisdom.
God grants mankind the gift of wisdom for the sole purpose of having it spread in the world and push Mankind forward to greater spiritual heights. When you spread the gift of wisdom, you are properly paying God back. If wisdom is squandered then you can’t possibly pay God back. Therefore when someone is “wealthy” enough to possess an appreciation for wisdom, they will use their gift of additional wisdom for the right purpose. The fool, on the other hand, has a “poor” understanding of wisdom’s potential and purpose. Therefore they will never be able to “pay God back” because they won’t spread their wisdom to benefit Mankind.