Contemplations About the Story of Moses and the Wise Man
وَإِذۡ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَٮٰهُ لَآ أَبۡرَحُ حَتَّىٰٓ أَبۡلُغَ مَجۡمَعَ ٱلۡبَحۡرَيۡنِ أَوۡ أَمۡضِىَ حُقُبً۬ا (٦٠)
60. Recall when Moses said to his servant, “I will not cease until I reach the junction of the two seas, or I continue for a long period of time.”
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَا مَجۡمَعَ بَيۡنِهِمَا نَسِيَا حُوتَهُمَا فَٱتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ سَرَبً۬ا (٦١)
61. Then, when they reached the junction between them, they forgot about their canoe. It took its way into the sea, slipping away.
فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَٮٰهُ ءَاتِنَا غَدَآءَنَا لَقَدۡ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَـٰذَا نَصَبً۬ا (٦٢)
62. When they went further, he said to his servant, “Bring us our lunch; we have found from our trip much exhaustion.”
قَالَ أَرَءَيۡتَ إِذۡ أَوَيۡنَآ إِلَى ٱلصَّخۡرَةِ فَإِنِّى نَسِيتُ ٱلۡحُوتَ وَمَآ أَنسَٮٰنِيهُ إِلَّا ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنُ أَنۡ أَذۡكُرَهُ ۥۚ وَٱتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ عَجَبً۬ا (٦٣)
63. He said, “Do you remember when we rested by the rock? I forgot about the canoe. It was only the Shaytan who made me forget it. And so it found its way to the sea, incredibly.”
قَالَ ذَٲلِكَ مَا كُنَّا نَبۡغِۚ فَٱرۡتَدَّا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاثَارِهِمَا قَصَصً۬ا (٦٤)
64. He said, “This is what we were seeking.” And so they turned back, retracing their steps.
فَوَجَدَا عَبۡدً۬ا مِّنۡ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ رَحۡمَةً۬ مِّنۡ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمۡنَـٰهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلۡمً۬ا (٦٥)
65. Then they came upon an agent of Ours, whom We had blessed with mercy from Us, and had taught him knowledge from Our Own.
This is the story of Prophet Moses when he was on his journey to meet the Wise Man. He said to his servant that they would not stop until they reached him at “the junction of two seas,” but they did not know exactly where this place would be. This showed Moses’ determination to seek knowledge. They reached a resting point by the sea and stopped for lunch, but soon realized that their small canoe had drifted away. Moses, being inspired as a Prophet, took this as a sign that this would be where they would meet the Wise Man. So they retraced their steps to where they had left the canoe and, sure enough, found the Wise Man who had been taught by the Mala’ al-A’ala.
قَالَ لَهُ ۥ مُوسَىٰ هَلۡ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰٓ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمۡتَ رُشۡدً۬ا (٦٦)
66. Moses said to him, “May I follow you, so that you may teach me some of that which you were taught the right way?”
قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِىَ صَبۡرً۬ا (٦٧)
67. He said, “You will not be able to be patient with me.
وَكَيۡفَ تَصۡبِرُ عَلَىٰ مَا لَمۡ تُحِطۡ بِهِۦ خُبۡرً۬ا (٦٨)
68. And how will you be patient with that of which you have no experience?”
قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِىٓ إِن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ صَابِرً۬ا وَلَآ أَعۡصِى لَكَ أَمۡرً۬ا (٦٩)
69. He said, “You will find me, Allah willing, patient; and I will not disobey you in any order of yours.”
قَالَ فَإِنِ ٱتَّبَعۡتَنِى فَلَا تَسۡـَٔلۡنِى عَن شَىۡءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ أُحۡدِثَ لَكَ مِنۡهُ ذِكۡرً۬ا (٧٠)
70. He said, “If you follow me, do not ask me about anything, until I myself make mention of it to you.”
In the above verse 66, Moses asks the wise man to accompany him so that he can gain wisdom from him. The Wise Man warns Moses that he does not have the depth of knowledge and understanding, so he will be an impatient student. Moses insists that he will be patient and will not disobey the Wise Man. The Wise Man then sets a rule for Moses to follow: He must not ask about anything until the Wise Man voluntarily explains the situation to him. Moses accepts.
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا رَكِبَا فِى ٱلسَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَاۖ قَالَ أَخَرَقۡتَہَا لِتُغۡرِقَ أَهۡلَهَا لَقَدۡ جِئۡتَ شَيۡـًٔا إِمۡرً۬ا (٧١)
71. So they set out. At some point, they boarded a boat, and the Wise Man put a hole in it. Moses said, “Did you put a hole in it, to drown its passengers? You have done something awful.”
قَالَ أَلَمۡ أَقُلۡ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِىَ صَبۡرً۬ا (٧٢)
72. He said, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to endure with me?”
قَالَ لَا تُؤَاخِذۡنِى بِمَا نَسِيتُ وَلَا تُرۡهِقۡنِى مِنۡ أَمۡرِى عُسۡرً۬ا (٧٣)
73. He said, “Do not rebuke me for forgetting, and do not make my course difficult for me.”
The two moved onward with the journey. When they were in a boat with other passengers, the Wise Man put a hole in the bottom of the boat. Moses questioned him, “Why did you do that?” Moses perceived this as an awful thing to do. The Wise Man reminded him, “Did I not say that you will be impatient with me?” Moses acknowledged his mistake.
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا لَقِيَا غُلَـٰمً۬ا فَقَتَلَهُ ۥ قَالَ أَقَتَلۡتَ نَفۡسً۬ا زَكِيَّةَۢ بِغَيۡرِ نَفۡسٍ۬ لَّقَدۡ جِئۡتَ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا نُّكۡرً۬ا (٧٤)
74. So they set out. At some point, when they encountered a boy, the Wise Man killed him. Moses said, “Did you kill a pure soul, who killed no one? You have done something terrible.”
قَالَ أَلَمۡ أَقُل لَّكَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِىَ صَبۡرً۬ا (٧٥)
75. He said, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to endure with me?”
قَالَ إِن سَأَلۡتُكَ عَن شَىۡءِۭ بَعۡدَهَا فَلَا تُصَـٰحِبۡنِىۖ قَدۡ بَلَغۡتَ مِن لَّدُنِّى عُذۡرً۬ا (٧٦)
76. He said, “If I ask you about anything after this, then do not keep company with me. You have received excuses from me.”
They continued freely on the journey until they met a boy traveling on the land. The Wise Man killed the boy. Moses then reacted strongly to the Wise Man’s action, and questioned how he could kill an innocent person who had done no harm to anyone. The Wise Man replied in the same way as in the previous lesson, and rebuked Moses for not being patient.
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَآ أَتَيَآ أَهۡلَ قَرۡيَةٍ ٱسۡتَطۡعَمَآ أَهۡلَهَا فَأَبَوۡاْ أَن يُضَيِّفُوهُمَا فَوَجَدَا فِيہَا جِدَارً۬ا يُرِيدُ أَن يَنقَضَّ فَأَقَامَهُ ۥۖ قَالَ لَوۡ شِئۡتَ لَتَّخَذۡتَ عَلَيۡهِ أَجۡرً۬ا (٧٧)
77. So they set out. At some point, they reached the people of a town and they asked them for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. There they found a wall about to collapse, and the Wise Man repaired it. Moses said, “If you wanted, you could have obtained a payment for it.”
قَالَ هَـٰذَا فِرَاقُ بَيۡنِى وَبَيۡنِكَۚ سَأُنَبِّئُكَ بِتَأۡوِيلِ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡتَطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرًا (٧٨)
78. He said, “This is the parting between you and me. I will tell you the interpretation of that with which you were unable to be patient.”
They went on again to a small village. They asked the people of the village to feed them but the people refused. The Wise Man noticed a wall that was about to collapse so he went ahead and fixed it. Moses was puzzled and told the Wise Man that he should have asked to be compensated. The Wise Man came to the conclusion to separate himself from Moses because Moses was not being patient for the third time, and was not following the learning conditions that were set as part of the journey. The Wise Man then explained the wisdom of the three lessons.
أَمَّا ٱلسَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتۡ لِمَسَـٰكِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ فَأَرَدتُّ أَنۡ أَعِيبَہَا وَكَانَ وَرَآءَهُم مَّلِكٌ۬ يَأۡخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصۡبً۬ا (٧٩)
79. As for the boat, it belonged to paupers working at sea. So I wanted to damage it because there was a king coming after them seizing every boat by force.
The Wise Man explained the wisdom of his action. He had damaged the boat so that the local king would not steal it from the poor people. The king would disregard the damaged boat and so the paupers could simply fix the boat and keep it.
وَأَمَّا ٱلۡغُلَـٰمُ فَكَانَ أَبَوَاهُ مُؤۡمِنَيۡنِ فَخَشِينَآ أَن يُرۡهِقَهُمَا طُغۡيَـٰنً۬ا وَڪُفۡرً۬ا (٨٠)
80. As for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared he would exhaust them through overwhelming them and making them ungrateful.
فَأَرَدۡنَآ أَن يُبۡدِلَهُمَا رَبُّہُمَا خَيۡرً۬ا مِّنۡهُ زَكَوٰةً۬ وَأَقۡرَبَ رُحۡمً۬ا (٨١)
81. So we wanted their Rabb to replace him with someone better in purity, and closer to mercy.
The Wise Man then explained that he was inspired by the MLA to take the child’s life so that the parents would not lose their gratitude and patience. The understanding is that the MLA had a higher understanding and knew that the parents would be overwhelmed with this child. The Rabb would replace the child with another one.
وَأَمَّا ٱلۡجِدَارُ فَكَانَ لِغُلَـٰمَيۡنِ يَتِيمَيۡنِ فِى ٱلۡمَدِينَةِ وَكَانَ تَحۡتَهُ ۥ كَنزٌ۬ لَّهُمَا وَكَانَ أَبُوهُمَا صَـٰلِحً۬ا فَأَرَادَ رَبُّكَ أَن يَبۡلُغَآ أَشُدَّهُمَا وَيَسۡتَخۡرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا رَحۡمَةً۬ مِّن رَّبِّكَۚ وَمَا فَعَلۡتُهُ ۥ عَنۡ أَمۡرِىۚ ذَٲلِكَ تَأۡوِيلُ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرً۬ا (٨٢)
82. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphaned boys in the city.
Beneath it was a treasure that belonged to them. Their father was a righteous man. Your Rabb wanted them to reach their maturity, and then extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Rabb. I did not do it of my own accord. This is the interpretation of that with which you were unable to be patient.
The Wise Man explained that the wall that he repaired in the village belonged to a pious and just man who had passed and left behind to his two orphan children. The wall was protecting a treasure that the father had left for the children. If the wall had fallen down the children’s wealth would have been exposed prematurely and exploited. The Rabb wanted, out of his mercy, to protect it for them until they reached the age of maturity. The Wise Man explained that everything that he had done was not of his own thinking or rationale, but was inspired by Allah and the MLA.
The story of Moses and the Wise Man presents us with several important commentaries on the nature of learning, as well as insight into how to deal with grave situations in our lives. By examining the characters and the choices they made throughout their interaction, we can gather the following useful pieces of advice:
Seeking knowledge requires dedication and perseverance.
Moses wanted so much to learn and grow as an individual that he was willing to embark on a true adventure. Furthermore, Moses committed to not ceasing his search for the Wise Man until he finally met him. This reminds us both that true knowledge is worth working for, and that if you know you have access to a wise person, it is recommended you try to find and learn from them before you are unable to do so due to death or other circumstances. Knowledge is precious and we should apply spiritual and physical striving to acquire it.
Students will benefit the most from the teacher’s guidance by respecting their instructor’s parameters for the learning environment. The Wise Man set a condition for Moses that he not question him until he was ready to explain his reasoning. When Moses lost his patience, the Wise Man refused to retain him as a student. Had Moses kept calm, who knows what other gems of wisdom the teacher could have bestowed? The story shows us that if a student does not follow the rules, not only will they risk not understanding the full meaning of the teacher’s instruction, but that the teacher may withhold further knowledge. Following a teacher’s rules is a sign both of trustworthiness, as one keeps one’s word, and also respect for the teacher’s time and expertise. When students trust the learning process, they will be able to benefit more from the teacher’s guidance.
People’s perspectives are different.
This is true for anyone and everyone but especially relevant, again, to the relationship between teacher and student. Moses analyzed the curious scenarios he encountered with the Wise Man with an intellectual, rational approach, but he soon found out that this method is not the only valid way to view situations or get information.
The Wise Man, in contrast, used a spiritual approach to assess these same situations. Interestingly, the Arabic of the Qur’an uses three versions of the verb “to want” to attribute the responsibility for the Wise Men’s actions to three different sources. At first, the Wise Man explains using aradtu, claiming that he himself wanted to damage the boat based on information he had about the social circumstances of those people. Then, he moves to use aradna, explaining that it was the MLA who directed his actions to take the life of the young boy. Finally, arada rabbuka shows us that it was “your Rabb” who wanted the Wise Man to conceal the children’s treasure by rebuilding the wall. By disconnecting his own intellect--which may have normally balked at the notion of taking a child’s life or of working without pay--the Wise Man was able to open up his consciousness to suggestions from a greater wisdom. Once he dimmed the noise of the intellect, he could open up to a unique, superior perspective on the world.
Sometimes we have to do something that seems wrong in the short term, to do good in the long term. When the Wise Man put a hole in the poor peoples’ boat, he damaged their property to make it temporarily unusable. In doing so, however, he rescued it from the king’s greed, saving it for the people’s continued use. We may encounter situations like this in the workplace, such as reassigning an employee to another department; it may be inconvenient and disruptive for all parties in the short term, but perhaps the employee has skills that will benefit the company more in the new situation, or the transfer will allow the employee to grow new skills and eventually obtain a leadership position.
Tough calls are never easy to make, but we must face them with courage. While we can never assume the true reasons the couple’s child would have eventually caused them so much strife, we can hypothetically liken their situation to caring for a family member who has suffered significant brain damage and lies in a coma, certainly unable to ever fully recover. Whether or not to leave them on life support is never an easy decision. But a third party, especially one with other insight, may recognize that prolonging this life will only continue to drain the surviving family members, whether financially, physically, or spiritually, and so recommend that they take the patient off life support. Whether the decision concerns the life of a human, an animal, or a business, we are sometimes faced with this sort of “impossible” choice. If we allow ourselves to consider the bigger picture, we may be able to find the courage to do the needful, and, like the couple in the story, we may then be blessed with unexpected benefits.
Righteousness will be recompensed. If you are a righteous person, just do good, and when you do the right thing, good things will happen to you and your offspring. The Rabb sent the Wise Man to restore the crumbling wall in order to protect the children’s treasure, so it would not be exhumed and exploited. The innocent children of the righteous father would not have deserved such a fate, so the Rabb did not allow it to happen. Instead, He looked out for their long-term, future well-being, and preserved their fortune.