Avraham ben Yaakov


Each of the proverbs in these chapters stands independently, with no single theme or progression of thought binding them all together. Each aphorism opens up a world of thought in itself. A full commentary would require a discussion of every verse in turn with an analysis in each case of the MASHAL (the metaphor or image) and the NIMSHAL (the subject that is elucidated through the comparison). Such commentaries have already been provided by the classical Torah commentators (Targum Yonasan, Rashi, RaDaK, Ibn Ezra, RaLBaG, MaLBiM, etc.), but to give a digest of their discussions and of various comments by the rabbis of the Talmud and Midrashim on each verse would be well beyond the scope of the present study notes, which will instead offer some brief comments on selected verses, leaving students to familiarize themselves with the actual Biblical text and to draw personal lessons and messages from those verses that speak to them particularly at this time.

Chapter 12 verse 1: One who loves true knowledge of God (DA'AS) will love reproof because he has the humility to understand that he must constantly correct his own misconceptions, where as one who hates being criticized and corrected will not grow in wisdom and will therefore remain a BO'AR, a "fool", or more literally, an "animal" who lacks the exalted human faculty of DA'AS.

As in the previous chapters, the main overall theme of most of the proverbs in our present text is the contrast between the thought patterns, ways of speech and deeds of the righteous TZADDIK and those of the wicked RASHA. The Tzaddik pursues justice while the Rasha is full of mischief and deceit (v 3). The wicked use words to trap and kill others, while the righteous seek to save them and promote peace (v 6). Since God rules the world with absolute justice, it is only fair that he should give endurance to the Tzaddikim and overthrow the wicked (vv 3, 7, etc.)

V 8: "A man should be commended according to his intelligence (SECHEL)." The rendering of SECHEL as "intelligence" somewhat makes it seem as if high marks are given to those with high IQ, because in our highly sophisticated society dominated by "experts", intelligence is associated in the minds of many with quick, sharp thinking whether for good or bad. But in the vocabulary of Torah literature, SECHEL refers to the triad of mental faculties known kabbalistically as holistic HOCHMAH-thinking, analytic BINAH-thinking and their synthesis, DA'AS, the knowledge of God. Since God Himself is totally beyond our intellects, the only way to "know" Him is with simplicity and sincerity, through faith. This is why ".he who is of a perverse heart shall be despised" - because one who allows himself to be dominated by the perversity of the evil inclination in his heart looses his holy good sense.

V 9: "The righteous man knows the soul (NEFESH) of his animal." - Rashi (ad loc.) comments that "he knows what his animal and his family need". The Tzaddik's "animal" would allude to his physical body whose nature, requirements and purpose as the servant and agent of his own higher soul (NESHAMAH) the Tzaddik fully understands. He lives on the spiritual plane but understands the material plane.

".but the kindnesses of the wicked are cruel". This can be understood on many levels. For example, "lovingly" plying one's family and children with candies and junk food can be extremely cruel in the long term. Also, those kindly "rabbis" of recent centuries who sought to "sweeten" Judaism for their congregations by "easing the burden" of Torah and changing or abandoning many of its most precious observances have proved in fact to be exceedingly cruel both to the lost souls of their congregants and to the entire people of Israel, whom they have left divided and largely bereft of a true, unifying tradition. Another form of "kindness" that is really extremely cruel is the failure to condemn and punish many crimes and acts of terror, or even to justify them on psychological or ideological grounds. It is this misplaced "kindness" of the wicked that has led to the rampant crime and terror in the world today.

V 11: "He that tills his land shall have plenty of bread." Rashi comments that besides the obvious simple truth of this proverb, it also teaches that one who constantly reviews his Torah studies will not forget them. [This is the reason for the two-chapter-a-day Bible study cycle, which enables us to cover the entire Bible in one year and review it each year thereafter, thereby becoming ever more familiar with all facets of this life wisdom.]

V 14: "From the fruit of the mouth of a man shall he be satisfied with good." - "From the reward for the work of the mouths of those who engage in Torah [repeating their studies orally out loud day by day] they eat the good in this world while the principal endures for them in the world to come" (Rashi). ".and the recompense of man's hands shall be handed to him" - the rewards God gives in the world of truth are strictly in accordance with our efforts in this world.

V 15: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but the wise man listens to advice." The fool likes to decide everything for himself according to his own ideas, but in order to get through this mixed up world we need guidance from a source of truth that stands beyond it - the Torah.

V 16: Fools vent their anger on the spot, but the wise are more prudent.

V 19: "The lip of truth shall be established forever." Living as we do in a world of rampant falsehood, this should be very comforting to us.

V 21: "No evil shall befall the just." God protects those who truly and sincerely follow the Torah, saving them from coming to sin even though this is all too easy in the complex, fast-moving world we live in.

V 23: ".the heart of fools declares their folly" - "they declare their folly in a loud voice" (Rashi). One who possesses DA'AS TORAH, "knowledge of the Torah", can rapidly discern the folly of those who do not understand the true nature of this world and its purpose: their words, their behavior and their very gait all cry out folly.

V 24: "The hand of the diligent shall RULE." - "shall become rich" (Rashi). The riches, of course, are spiritual. Everything depends on diligence and effort.

V 25: "Anxiety in a man's heart dejects it." The Hebrew word rendered as "dejects it" is YASH'CHENAH, the pi-el form of the root SHACHAH, to come down low. The sages of the Talmud darshened this as (1) YA-SICHENAH, "he should put it out of his mind", or (2) YA-SICHENAH, "he should TALK ABOUT IT to others" (Yoma 75a). In fact, good talk therapy with an honest friend or true counselor helps remove anxiety from the heart.


V 1: "A wise son hears his father's instruction." Rashi comments that it is because the father gives instruction and reproof that the son becomes wise.

V 2: "A man shall eat good from the fruit of his mouth." The first part of this verse is almost identical to Ch 12 v 14, "a man shall be SATISFIED with good from the fruit of his mouth", although the second part of the verse is different. There are also other cases where part or all of a verse recurs in more than one place in Proverbs.

V 3: "He who guards his lips keeps his life." Guarding and sanctifying our faculty of speech is one of the most important keys to spiritual success in life.

V 4: "The soul of the sluggard desires and has nothing, but the soul of the diligent shall be richly supplied." Many people have dreams and wishes, but only through diligence can they be made actual and far-off goals turned into practical achievements.

V 7: "There is one who seems to be rich yet lacks everything, and one who seems to be poor yet has great wealth." Here is another verse pointing to the paradoxical nature of this world and God's way of running it: many things are very different from the way they seem on the surface.

V 13: "He who despises the word shall be punished, but he who fears the commandment shall be rewarded" - "When a person despises one of the teachings of the Torah, he ends up being snatched as a surety for it" (Rashi).

V 18: "Poverty and shame come to one who refuses instruction (MUSSAR)." Again and again Solomon drives in the message that we must submit ourselves to the reproof and moralistic teachings of the Torah (cf. vv 20 & 24 etc.). Mussar literature, whether in the form of the moralistic classics ("Path of the Just", "Gates of Repentance" etc.) or Chassidut (Likutey Moharan, Tanya etc.) should be part of the regular diet of every Torah student.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved