Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest. — Proverbs 6:6–8
In the book of Proverbs, the lazy person is directed to learn how to be industrious from the ant which works diligently even though it has no boss or leader. This idea of learning from the creatures around us is echoed in a statement from the Talmud where the Jewish sages teach that if God had not given us the Bible, we would have been required to learn morality by studying animals.
For example, we would learn modesty from a cat, honest industry from an ant, fidelity from a dove, and so on. However, we could easily ask: How would we know to learn the good things from animals and not pick up lessons from the negative traits in the animal kingdom? Why not learn cruelty from the jackal or promiscuity from a rooster? How would we know which lessons to find and apply to our lives?
The answer is that a person will find what he or she is looking for. If we are looking for ways to be good and godly, we can find guidance and messages in everything. If we are looking to rationalize selfish, immoral, or unkind behavior, we will be able find affirmations in the things we see around us as well.
Once we set our mind and heart on living a God-centered, moral life we can learn from everything in our lives. In fact, the sages teach that nothing that happens in our day is by chance. Everything we see, every person we encounter, and everything that happens to us has a lesson for us. We can — and should — learn from everything.
A great 19th–century rabbi once said to his students: “You know, my friends, we can learn great truths from even inanimate things. Everything can teach us something.” Taking the rabbi’s statement as a challenge, one student asked, “Tell me, Rabbi, what might we learn from a train?” The rabbi replied: “That because of a single second you might miss the whole thing.” Another student asked, “What might we learn from a telegraph?” The rabbi replied, “That every word is counted and that every word carries a cost.” A third student asked, “And a telephone – what might we learn from that?” The wise rabbi explained: “That what you say here can surely be heard there.”
Indeed there are profound life lessons waiting to be discovered everywhere if we would take the time to look. The rabbis teach that everything we encounter on any given day contains a lesson for us that we need for that particular day. So pay attention today, look around, and see what you might learn. The answers we search for might reside in the most unlikely places, but if we truly desire to find them, we will.