What do Chazal mean when they says that, “Kol talmid chochom sh’ein bo da’as, neveilah tovah me’menu”? [Tana Di’bei Eliyahu] What does it mean, “A talmid chochom that doesn’t have da’as”? And why is a dead animal better than him?
A talmid chochom is supposed to utilize his learning to transform his mind. And a torahdikeh mind is a mind of da’as. Da’as means a realistic feeling of what you have learned. Not only intellectual knowledge but “yi’di’ah chushis” – sensory perception. For instance, many people can say idealistic things but they don’t necessarily feel it. Their minds are actually very far from it.
So you have to train yourself to listen to your own words. You know, the Satmerer Rav, zichrono li’vrachah, once said, “All the mechabrim should make sure to read their own seforim!” And that is actually very good advice. You must listen to your own words. And of course, if you have somebody else to listen to, that’s also important. Boruch Hashem, I sat in Slabodka for six years and I listened to my Rebbeim. My Rebbeim spoke mussar three times a week, each time for an hour and a half. Three times a week, an hour and a half each time! And we listened! Listening is very good for you. “Sh’mah b’ni,” listen my son, “mussar avichah.” It’s wonderful to listen.
And so, a talmid chochom should listen to his own words. He should listen to the words of Rav Ashi – to the words of all the Ta’na’im and Amo’ra’im. He should listen to them. And not merely to know the ideas. To know the ideas is called chochmah. But then you must take the chochmah by means of binah and transform it into da’as. Binah is the catalytic agent that turns chochmah into da’as. How does Binah do that? Binah means “li’hisbonen.” You must think into the chochmah – you must think about these ideas – and that changes the chochmah into da’as. And da’as is emunah chushis. Once you have da’as, you have transformed yourself.
So here you have a talmid chochom – he’s a real talmid chochom – and he knows everything. But “ein bo da’as.” Nothing is realistic to him. He knows it all but he hasn’t transformed it into da’as. No, no! Then he is a waste. His life is a waste. A kosher animal had so much use and potential. And now, it died and it’s a neveilah. It’s wasted. But a neveilah at least you can skin it and the meat can go to the dogs. You can take skin and make leather and feed the meat to the dogs. But a talmid chochom who has only learned chochmah – even if he’s full of be’kius – but if he doesn’t experience in his mind and in his emotions the great principles that he has learned then he’s a waste. And a neveilah is tovah me’menu. He’s worse than a neveilah.