Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 19 Stupidity


Back to chapter 18 about alacrity

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


Stupidity is the opposite of alacrity and takes various forms, since the foolish people in this world certainly outnumber the wise people. Even the wise people possess a measure of foolishness and this befits them, as it is written (Eccl. 10, 1): "A small measure of foolishness is more precious than wisdom or honour."

There are some people who display frequent and absolute stupidity like lunatics, who are a class apart from normal people. There are others who lose their mind - at certain periods in the month or year - and at that time they are like the other insane people we have referred to. There are also people who appear sane, however their mental states fluctuates from time to time and they are commonly called "lunatics".1

Others lose their mind as result of excess black humor and depression which dominate them and they become totally unresponsive: there are countless varieties of this [disorder]. There are other foolish people who will lack proper understanding, and this takes four forms:

  • The first is the person who does not think about his actions and fulfills the inclinations of his heart without considering whether they are good or bad.

  • The second is one who does not anticipate the potential consequences [of his actions] and what the future holds for him.

  • The third is the hasty person who acts impulsively without advice or forethought.

  • The fourth refuses to do what is fitting and proper for him, because of the laziness which dominates him and does not allow him to get going on the right path.

We can relate the trait of stupidity to the wild bull, which in its natures hates everything which is red. Therefore, when the hunters want to trap it, they put on red clothes and proceed to the places where the bull is to be found. When it sees them, it immediately pursues them, without any thought or preparation, driven by its anger and fury. They then run away and go to hide behind a specific tree chosen in advance and the bull chases after them impetuously; and with the intention of striking the hunters it hits the tree and it drives its horns into the tree with such force that it cannot remove them anymore. The hunters them come upon it and kill it. Therefore King Solomon went to great length in all his sayings in the Book of Proverbs to criticize and despise foolishness saying (Proverbs 1, 32): "The rebellion of the simpletons will cause their death and the contentment of fools will destroy them"; (ibid. 13, 20): "One who keeps company with fools will suffer harm"; (ibid. 14, 7): "Keep away from the foolish person"; (ibid. 18, 7): "The idiot's mouth will wipe him out" and many more examples.
And our Sages of blessed memory said (Talmud Bavli, tractate Berachot 33a): "Knowledge is a great thing, since it was given between two [Divine] Names, as it is said (First Book of Samuel 2, 3): 'Because the Lord is a G-d of knowledge'." They also said that [even] a carcass is superior to a man without knowledge.

Diogenes said: "There is no wealth comparable to intelligence and there is no poverty like stupidity. As Ptolemy said: Somebody who has been revived by wisdom did not die and one who has acquired knowledge did not become a pauper".

The chroniclers told that Alexander of Macedon3 and Aristotle were walking through Macedon and the servants preceded them proclaiming: "Make way for King Alexander". There was a stupid person there who sat himself on a stone in the middle of the road and did not wish to move. One of the eunuchs approached him and tried to push him away and remove him from there. Aristotle said to him: "Don't remove a stone from upon another stone", since a stupid person is really no human being.

Notes of the translators:
[1] The original texts in the Holy Tongue uses precisely this term.
[2] In the original Hebrew text the word Deah (knowledge) appears between those two names of Hashem.
[3] This is Alexander the Great.

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 19 about stupidity is found at pages 40-42.