Yiddish, which originated in Central Europe in the 9th century, represents a mellifluous melting pot of many languages–Aramaic, Hebrew, Czechoslovakian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russion, to name a few. Moreover, the language gave rise to proverbs that passed on wisdom from one generation to the next via a rich oral tradition. And as Rae Meltzer notes in her introduction to Yiddish Wisdom, “In these age-old maxims there is wit, warmth, and a timeless wisdom that reflects the rich history of the Jewish people and the vibrant color of the Yiddish language.” Bookshelf presents some pearls of Yiddish wisdom that are treasured and, of course, timeless:
Teach a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
One mother achieves more than a hundred teachers.
Everything revolves around bread and death.
Love is sweet, but it’s nice to have bread with it.
Quiet streams tear away the shores.
The food is cooked in the pot, but the plate gets the honor.
If you can’t do as you wish, do as you can.
One link snaps, and the whole chain falls apart.
Like soap to the body, so are tears for the soul.
Hope for miracles but don’t rely on one.
One old friend is better than two new ones.
It is better to have nobility of character than nobility of birth.
Better caution at first than tears afterward.
Ask advice from everyone, but act with your own mind.
The ocean cannot be emptied with a spoon.
Experience is what we call the accumulation of our mistakes.
To seek wisdom in old age is like a mark in the sand. To seek wisdom in youth is like engraving on stone.
For further reading: Yiddish Wisdom: Humor and Heart from the Old Country by Chronicle Books (2013)