We lay great stress on off-hand knowledge. Who hasn’t been impressed by the breadth of knowledge of a great scholar especially one who is proficient in the subjects of the Torah?
We may even find that we tend to dismiss a person who does not exhibit proficiency as unauthoritative or even incompetent, and certainly one who says “I don’t know”!
But is knowledge really the definitive and ultimate trademark of a true scholar?
The Talmud of the Land of Israel recounts that Rabbi Yehudah the Prince recommended a scholar on the basis that he had a great trait. That great trait was not knowledgeability, but quite the contrary, the ability to say “I don’t know” (Hag 1:8).
Only one who has the ability to say “I don’t know”, in other words one who is completely impartial, open-minded and intellectual honest is guaranteed to get beneath the truth and reach the correct verdict or decision.
The Lesson that the Talmud of the Land of Israel teaches us here is that it is the ability to plead ignorance that is the trademark and greatest intellectual trait of a scholar.
Knowledge can always be accumulated, but truth can only be obtained by one who can unabashedly declare: “I don’t know”.
May God give us the wisdom to recognize true scholars who can serve as our personal role-models and figures to aspire to!