A few weeks ago, my ceramics professor was telling us about different ways to wedge (remove bubbles from) our clay. She wedges using a roll-and-push motion, but she told us that when she'd been in England (I believe as a graduate student and TA), her students had wedged by slicing the clay on a wire attached to a table and a pillar, and slamming the slices down upon one another. She'd never seen this before, but was happy to learn something new.
"They were my students -- I thought I would be teaching them," she said. "But there they were, teaching me something!"
In this way, without knowing it, she taught us a line from Pirkei Avot: Eizehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam. Who is wise? One who learns from all people. (Avot 4:1)
But I had not expected to learn Torah from my ceramics professor (who isn't Jewish). And thus, I, too, was able to be chachama, and learn something from someone I hadn't expected to learn it from.
Later that day, I was walking down the hall, I passed a group of people talking about religion. How could I resist? I joined in. They turned out to be three Christians who seemed to be Evangelical, and one skeptic. One of them tried to convince me that Jesus was my lord and savior. Needless to say, it didn't work. But then our conversation led to us a discussion of Joseph, from the Torah. We talked about how Joseph was in prison for many years, and how he probably thought, eventually, that God had forsaken him and wasn't going to help him. Or at least, he would have wondered why God had waited so long, rather than redeeming him right away.
"God saved him in His own time, not in Joseph's," said my new friend.
"But, really, it was in Joseph's time, even though he didn't know it," I responded. "If God had freed him right away, he wouldn't have
been able to interpret the cup-bearer's dream, be referred to Pharoah,
and save the lives of an entire kingdom."
It got me thinking. Maybe, when it seems that God has forsaken someone, or waits what seems an unreasonably long time before helping them, it's really that God's saving them "in God's time," and that it really is for the best.
And so, for the second time that day, I got to be chachama, and learn from someone unexpected.