Avraham ben Yaakov


V 1: "The words of Agur Bin Yakeh." After the very lengthy series of profoundly wise proverbs stretching all the way from Chapter 10 until this point, the present abrupt introduction to the closing discourses of Proverbs is very surprising. No names are in the TaNaCh by chance. Each has its own meaning, overtones and midrashim. Agur is none other than Shlomo himself, who here calls himself AGUR from the Hebrew root AGAR, "he gathered" - for Solomon gathered and acquired Torah and understanding. BIN-YAKEH, the child that VOMITS! For he "vomited it out": The Torah writes ".and he shall not multiply wives for himself that his heart shall not go astray" - VE-OUCHAL, "and I shall be able": Solomon said, "I shall multiply but I shall not go astray" (Tanchuma).

"The burden, says the man, unto Ithi-el, unto Ithi-el and I shall be able." The "man" = Shlomo, utters this burden = prophecy about himself, concerning Ithi-el (="God is with me"), because he depended upon his wisdom in multiplying gold, horses and wives, which the king is warned against, and he said "ITHI-EL, God is with me, and I shall be able: I shall multiply wives and they will not turn my heart astray, I shall multiply gold and not go astray, I will multiply horses and not return the people to Egypt" (Rashi).

V 2: "Surely I am brutish, unlike a man, and I do not have the understanding of a man" - Here Solomon expresses contrition, deploring his having relied on his own wisdom in a matter over which God warned him in case he would sin (Rashi).

V 3: "And I have not learned wisdom that I should have the knowledge of the Holy One" - "because I subtracted from or added to the words of the Torah" (Rashi).

Having spent the entire book of Proverbs urging us to seek wisdom, in these verses of contrition, Solomon is warning us not to depend on our own wisdom and reason but only upon the letter of the Torah, without seeking to change it or add or subtract in any way.

V 4: Solomon's rhetorical questions in this verse are darshened in various ways as referring to God Himself, who gave the Torah, and to Moses, who ascended to Heaven and brought the Torah down to earth (Yalkut Shimoni, cf. Rashi, Metzudas). "What is his name and what is the name of his son" This is part of Solomon's self-reproof. As Rashi puts it: "If you say there was already someone else like him, tell me what his son's name is, from which family he came forth so that we may know who he is. ".if you know" - "if you know who he is; then how is it that you were not afraid to transgress His words?"

Vv 7-9: Now Solomon prays to God, making two requests: (1) Keep me away from falsehood; (2) Provide my needs so I will be neither poor nor rich, lest I become haughty and deny God or so poor that I steal, lie and take His name in vain.

V 10: This verse teaches that one should not cry to God asking Him to carry out judgment on someone, even if he is evil, not even if he and his generation carry out all the abominations enumerated in this and the ensuing verses (11-14). The proof is from the prophet Hoshea, who suggested that God should exchange Israel for another people, only to be commanded by God to take an adulterous woman as his wife (Rashi).

Vv 15-17: "The leech has two daughters." - "The two daughters are the Garden of Eden and Gehennom. The one says, 'Give me the Tzaddikim' while the other says, 'Give me the wicked'" (Rashi). King Solomon is teaching us his conclusion after having erred through relying on his own wisdom. "There is no wisdom and no understanding before God" - the Torah has decreed what is righteous and what is wicked, and this cannot be changed. One who mocks this wisdom will suffer.

Vv 18ff: "There are three things that are too wonderful for me, yea four that I do not know" - "What this means is that just as there are three things that are concealed from me so that I do not know the path along which they went, so in the case of the fourth I do not know how to recognize the matter after it occurs" (Metzudas David). The fourth matter is expressed in v 20 - the way of an adulterous woman. For since she is married and no longer a virgin, if she has an adulterous relationship she can clean her "mouth" (down below) and no-one will be any the wiser. Solomon is deploring the adulterer and adulteress for believing that just as they can hide their act from men because of the speed and secrecy with which may be performed, so they think they can hide it from God.

The third of the four things that were "too wonderful" for Shlomo was "the way of a man with a young woman" (v 19). It is particularly important for those who have suffered from exposure to non-Jewish distortions of the meaning of the Biblical texts to note that the Hebrew term for "young woman" in this verse is 'ALMA, and it is perfectly clear from the context - the WAY of a man - that this verse is referring to physical relations. In the words of Metzudas Tzion (=Metzudas David when he defines the meanings of words) commenting on v 19: "A woman tender in years is called an ' ALMA even if she has had intercourse, as in 'Behold the young woman ('ALMA) has conceived' (Isaiah 7:14)". Careful contemplation of the meaning of these verses together with Metzudas' comment shows that the translation of ' ALMA in Isaiah 7:14 as a "virgin" is preposterous.

V 21-3: The very earth quakes and rages over the upside-down human world in which slaves and maidservants rule - these are the empires of the Sitra Achra which rule during Israel 's long exile.

V 24ff: We should learn from the industriousness of the ants, the patience of the rabbits who labor despite their weakness until they succeed in boring holes even in the rocks, from the discipline of the locusts who unify even without a leader and from the self-sufficient spider, who even in the chambers of kings prefers to eat from the own labors of her own hands.


V 1: "The words of King Lemu-el, the burden with which his mother corrected him." Like the first verse of the previous chapter, the king in this verse is interpreted in rabbinic midrash (Bereshis Rabba 10, Sanhedrin 70b) as referring to Solomon himself. He is LEMO-EL, facing or turned to God. He here recounts his mother's rebuke to him as if it is a prophecy received from God (Metzudas David). In the early sections of Proverbs, Solomon spoke of his father's chastisements to lead him on the path of wisdom. Now he speaks of those of his mother after the death of King David, after which he launches into a praise of the Wise Woman built as an acrostic on the letters of the Aleph Beis in vv 10-31 (Ibn Ezra). The rabbis tell that when King Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh, on the day of the inauguration of the Temple she brought into him various kinds of musical instruments and he was awake for the whole night. The next morning he slept until the end of the fourth hour of the day, and because the keys of the Temple courtyard were under his pillow they were unable to offer the daily perpetual offering, and his mother entered and rebuked him in the words that follow" (Metzudas David).

Bat-sheva's rebuke to Solomon consists of invaluable advice to the king not to dissipate his strength on women and not to drink, because wine is not for kings. "Open your mouth for the dumb." (v 8) - "This means that if someone comes before you in judgment and is like a dumb person lacking the knowledge to order his claims and pleas, you should open your mouth for his sake to put his claims and pleas in order" (Metzudas David). The final advice to the king is that he must rule with justice (v 9).

Vv 10-31, EISHES HAYIL, "A woman of valor," is well known to those who observe and love the holy Shabbos since this passage is recited weekly at the Friday night Shabbos table after greeting the angels prior to making the Kiddush. The evocation of the righteous, God-fearing woman makes a fitting conclusion to Solomon's Book of Proverbs, which has taken us along all the highways and byways of wisdom. Having warned repeatedly against succumbing to the allurements of the "strange woman" and her wares of heresy and sin, Solomon seals his book with the praises of "the woman that fears God" (v 30).

On one level EISHES HAYIL is Solomon's praise of his own wise mother Bat-sheva (Metzudas). Midrashically, the passage is interpreted as a praise of the ideal woman of Israel as embodied in Sarah, the founding matriarch of the nation (Tanchuma). Rashi also interprets the Woman of Valor as referring to the Torah itself, and offers a detailed commentary on the entire passage from this perspective. Metzudas David more specifically relates the Woman of Valor to man's intelligent soul, which may dwell with him to a greater or lesser extent depending upon his deeds. "Who is it that can attain the intelligent soul to perfection so as to know and understand by himself every word of wisdom and intelligence???" (Metzudas).

"The Woman of Valor is the Torah: happy is he who is worthy of finding her! He eats the fruits in this world and the world to come. To those who study her, she brings blessing and sustenance. From the fruits of her works she planted a vineyard - Israel - to sustain them for the life of the world to come. She is not afraid of the snow - of Gehennom - for her household. They are clothed in scarlet - the blood of circumcision. She laughs on the last day - they do not have to be depressed about God's attribute of Judgment because they will be saved from it. She looks to the ways of her household - the Torah teaches the good pathway so as to separate oneself from sin. Her children - the students - rise up and call her blessed, and her husband - the Holy One blessed be He. Grace is deceitful - this is refers to all the nations and the vanity of their greatness and beauty. Give her - in time to come - of the fruit of her hands - beauty, greatness, strength, glory and rulership" (Rashi).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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