The fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, offers a definition: “Who is a wise person? The one who learns from all human beings”.
Wisdom is not a matter of how many books you have read, how many degrees you have gained, how many inventions you have given mankind. You can have all the paper qualifications in the world and still be, in the rabbinic phrase, a donkey carrying books. Wisdom is not so much an achievement as an attitude, and even the least learned person can possess it.
What is wisdom? Wisdom is openness of mind – openness to ideas, experiences and other people. If you think you know everything, you know nothing.
Shakespeare said, “There are sermons in stones”; Judaism would say, there are lessons to be learned from every experience, every encounter, every moment, every challenge and even every defeat.
The Jewish tradition knew this well when it called the learned men of ancient days the chachamim – the wise ones. The Sephardi heritage followed this precedent in calling its spiritual leaders chachamim instead of rabbis. They must have recognized the sad truth that a person can be a rabbi without being wise.