Universal Wisdom in the Jewish Tradition
The following text was first published at “The
Theosophist”, Adyar, India, January, 1885, pp. 85-86.
Original title: “Aphorisms of the Sages”. It is here
reproduced from “The Aquarian Theosophist”, April 2012.
Silence is the first degree of wisdom,
listening the second, understanding the
third, remembering the fourth, acting the fifth.
The following aphorisms are selected from the book of Maimonides (Hurumbam) and Tíbban, the ancient Rabbis. They are the choicest amongst other beautiful and instructive passages contained in that book.
1. He never dies, whom wisdom keeps alive.
2. He is great, whose failings can be numbered.
3. What was the cause of his death? His life.
4. Whoever has death present to his mind, is sure to improve himself.
5. The heart is the hidden treasure of man, the tongue is the gate to the treasure.
6. The rash one falls into a snare, the deliberate one is delivered. He, that enquires, learns.
7. Chastisement is an excellent corrector. Humility is the ladder to honour.
8. Truth is heavy: few, therefore, can bear it.
9. Honour is much dishonoured.
10. Death enters our dwelling without permission.
11. Death is easier than what succeeds it, and heavier than what preceded it.
12. The eye is the interpreter of the heart.
13. Borrowing is the mother of troubles.
14. Old age is one of the deaths.
15. Language is one of the destroyers.
16. Woman is the handsomest being in animal creation.
17. Ugliness is the guardian of woman.
18. Wisdom is a tree that grows in the heart.
19. Correctness in speech is like salt to food.
20. Writing is the language of the hand.
21. To diminish injurious food is better than multiplying the useful.
22. Water is least valued among things existing and most valued among things wanted.
23. The road to Eden is difficult, but the ways to Topeth (hell) are easy.
24. If thou canst not attain what thou desirest, be satisfied with what thou need’st not desire.
25. Care wastes the heart and consumes it.
26. Neither grieve over the past nor fret over the future.
27. Whoever is desirous of prolonging his days, should prepare himself with a strong heart to meet causalities.
28. Whoever is not pleased with his circumstances voluntarily, will be compelled to be pleased with them against his will.
29. A hero is only known in the time of misfortune.
30. Choose death, and life will be continued to you.
31. Be silent and thou wilt be saved, ask and thou shalt learn.
32. Have pity upon the honourable gentleman that is despised, upon the rich that is impoverished, and upon the wise man who hath fallen among fools.
33. Be with man deaf and hearing, silent and speaking.
34. There are evils which, if compared to others, are benefits.
35. Despair is free but hope is a slave.
36. To implore created beings is a want of faith.
37. Who is he that sells perishable for lasting goods.
38. He, who demands more than he wants, is a man who cares, and his grievance never ceases.
39. Rather the grave than poverty (in wisdom).
40. Man is like the fruit of a tree, no mishap injures him till he ripens and drops of himself.
41. Look upon this world as if thou shouldst live for ever; and on the future world as if thou shouldst die to-morrow.
42. There are no riches like those of contentment.
43. There is no wisdom like good conduct, and no piety like reverence.
44. No reproof will have effect on him who doth not reprove himself.
45. The best of beasts requireth a whip and the best of women a husband.
46. The most intelligent among men requires advice.
47. Exchange not an old friend for a new one.
48. Let not even one enemy be little in thine eyes, and let not a thousand friends be many in thy sight.
49. Thou art despised in the eyes of him whom thou needest.
50. Good society is a safeguard against many evils.
51. Love him who tells thee thy faults in private.
52. Whose heart is narrow, his tongue is large.
53. If thou desirest to associate thyself with any one, provoke him. If he acknowledges his error, join him, if not, leave him.
54. Receive truth from any one that says it.
55. There is no rest in the time of expectation.
56. He, who repenteth his sin, is accounted as if he had not sinned. 
57. The news of the world will show thee what never entered thy mind.
58. He, who is forgotten by his relatives, the Lord will prepare strangers for him.
59. If thou desirest to know a man’s character, inquire after his companions.
60. Beware of him whom your heart hates, for hearts are like mirrors.
61. The sensible man will guard himself against his enemy more than against his friend.
62. It is unfit for a sensible man to fret at what is lost; he should rather take care of what remaineth.
63. He, who knows the world, will not rejoice excessively in joy, nor grieve excessively in mourning.
64. Possessions are the source of cares.
65. If thou desirest from this world that only which thou wantest, a little will suffice thee, but if thou desirest more than thou wantest, all will not be sufficient for thee.
66. The fruit of sufficiency is rest, and the fruit of gold and silver is grief and weariness.
67. Morality serveth as high birth to him who is not of high birth, for the excellency of the children of man consists in wisdom, not in birth, and he, who lacketh morality, the noblest birth will not profit him.
68. The wise man replied to the fool who despised him on account of the lowness of his family: “Thou art the blemish of thy family and my family is the blemish in me.”
69. The wise man said, “I have no other merit than that of knowing that I do not know.”
70. The slave of passions is lower than the slave of a master.
71. Silence is the first degree of wisdom, listening the second, understanding the third, remembering the fourth, acting the fifth.
72. If speech is silver, silence is gold.
73. Rashness of answering is sure to cause stumbling.
74. The proof of a man is his works, as gold is tried in fire.
75. Whosoever accuseth a fool is as one that findeth fault with a blind man.
76. If thou wilt be near men in friendship, thou shalt be delivered from their evils.
77. The man of good parts is near to the far.
78. He, to whom all men are alike, will have no companions.
79. Thou shalt not seek wisdom, but only to show what is to be avoided as folly.
80. When thy brother speaketh unto thee, give him a hearing.
81. He, who forsaketh inquiring into wisdom, will be drowned in the sea of folly.
82. Know that there has nothing happened to thee that hath not already happened to others beside thee.
83. It is impossible for the indefatigable traveller not to reach the haven of his desire.
84. There is often nothing more advantageous after going than returning.
85. The little evil quickly grows.
86. How awful is the dwelling of the weak in the habitation of a hungry lion.
87. The last of tribulations is the best of them.
88. Let the guest praise or blame, in all cases take care of him.
89. When thou hast once cast away the respect of thy countenance, thou wilt find none to restore it.
90. Whosoever thinketh much will understand.
91. In time of need, a friend is known.
92. The wise man will not delay his object.
93. Whosoever entrusteth his secret to a fool, is sure to lose it.
94. There is no remedy against a fool except to keep away from him.
95. Consider thy property nothing else than a trust in thy hand.
96. There is no fault to find with the man who hath done his best.
97. The heart beholdeth what the eye doth not see.
98. Riches hide every blemish.
99. Either be silent or speak sense.
100. Enter not in anything which is above thy position.
101. The enmity of the wise man is better than the friendship of the fool.
102. Whoever runneth toward evil, it will not escape him.
103. He, who knoweth to choose good rather than evil, is not so wise as he who knoweth which of two evils to choose.
104. Beware of doing that which thou mayest escape from.
105. Whosoever speaketh against men will be spoken against by them.
106. Whosoever findeth fault with people undeservedly will be found fault with deservedly.
107. Be careful even with the honourable and have no faith in an usurer.
108. Trust not him who laugheth in thy face.
109. He, who bringeth thee near the lion, doth not wish thee to live.
110. Forgiveness is only valuable in him who can do harm.
111. Praise can be attained sometimes without trouble.
112. The error of the honourable riseth with the height of his position.
113. Whosoever hath improved himself in his doings, need not fear reproach.
114. He is wise, who looketh upon his neighbour as upon himself.
115. Thou hast nothing from thy wealth except that which thou spendest.
116. The wolf cannot be trusted.
117. He is esteemed in thy sight, who doth not require thee.
118. Riches are high birth to him who is not of high birth.
119. Thy faults are hidden so long as thy luck helpeth thee.
120. Who hath no merits himself, the merits of others are of no avail to him.
121. Do nothing in private that thou wouldst be ashamed of in public.
122. Thou wilt not reach that which thou wouldst love if thou canst not bear that which thou hatest.
123. Complain not of thy fate when thou art the cause thereof.
124. Whosoever seeketh thy society for a certain object, will abandon thee whenever that object leaveth thee.
125. There is nothing so mighty as love.
126. The sick, who hath appetite, hath more hope than the healthy without appetite.
127. Whose malady is concealed from him, its remedy is concealed from him also.
128. Understanding is the friend of every man and folly is his enemy.
129. The man of morals is honoured even if poor; and the man of no morals is despised, even if rich.
130. To remove stones from the top of hills is easier than speaking to a man who hath no mind.
131. The friend of knowledge, whose heart is in the cause, his heart must stimulate him for his heart’s sake.
Make, therefore, the physical substance subject to the spiritual one, I mean the body to the soul: for this subjection is your Freedom in this and the future world. Therefore, “further not his (the body’s) wicked device,” for he, who ministers to his cravings, will continue to seek and will never be satisfied, and he will pant and languish for what he cannot reach; and ultimately his goodly portion within him will vanish. But, if the spiritual part of the understanding rules and subdues the physical desires, the latter will succumb and seek but that which is necessary, will be satisfied with the little and disdain superfluities, but that he may live and disdain all superfluities. Believe not that the multitude of eating and drinking enlarges the body and increases the understanding, as a sack which is filled by that which is put therein for it is just the contrary. Hate injurious food as a man hateth the one who persecutes him and seeketh his death. (P. T. O.)
 This means that he, who truly realises the fact that he has committed an error, has grown up into a condition in which he would not commit that error again. (Note from “The Theosophist”, 1885)
On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.