Avraham ben Yaakov


The moralistic philosophy of Proverbs is rooted in a worldview that sees man as a free agent living in a dangerously deceptive world from which God has purposely obscured the truth in order to make it necessary for man to strive to attain it through toil and effort, thereby earning his reward. Caught in a confusing maze in which the most likely-looking paths turn out to be blind alleys and worse, man desperately needs true guidance, which is precisely what Proverbs offers.

In verses 1-4 the voice of wisdom calls to the young, inexperienced "son", appealing to him to heed the message. He must dedicate all his faculties to the pursuit of the right and left columns of the kabbalistic tree - HOCHMAH-wisdom (v 2) and BINAH-understanding (vv 2-3) - in order to attain the center-column attribute of DA'ATH ELOKIM, the "knowledge" of God (v 5). This is more than merely cognitive knowledge: DA'ATH has the connotation of deep attachment. It is necessary to seek out and cultivate these attributes with the same eagerness that people seek out wealth and treasure (v 4).

Verses 5ff set forth the benefits conferred by Godly wisdom. "For HaShem gives wisdom; from His mouth is knowledge and understanding" (v 5). The wisdom that King Solomon urges us to seek is great because it has been given from the mouth of God Himself, and this is why we should strive to acquire it (Rashi on v 5). This wisdom confers protection (v 8) and unlocks the secrets of God's justice (v 9).

V 12: Only the wisdom of the Torah can save us the evil path of those who skillfully use language to turn everything around so that truth looks like falsehood and vice versa: "these are the EPIKOURSIM who deceive Israel into abandoning their faith and turn the Torah into something evil" (Rashi ad loc.)

V 16: Likewise the Torah saves from the "strange woman, the alien woman who makes her words smooth and slippery". This "strange woman" is the personification of heresy and atheism. "It would make no sense to say that he is merely talking about a literal adulteress, for what kind of praise of the Torah would it be to say here that it saves you from the strange woman but not from any other sin? This must refer to heresy, which causes people to cast off the yoke of all the commandments" (Rashi).

V 19: "None who go into her return again, they will not attain the paths of life". Rabbi Nachman explains that it is in the intrinsic nature of the conundrums of heretical philosophy that they can never be resolved, and those who try to unravel them simply get sucked in and sink without ever being able to reach any conclusion (Likutey Moharan Part 1 Torahs 62 & 64).

Vv 20-22: The wisdom of the Torah brings a person to keep to the ways of the righteous, who "will dwell in the LAND" (v 22) - "the world to come" (Rashi) - when the wicked are cut off and cast into hell.


Until this point, King Solomon has explained the four preconditions for true service of God. As discussed in the commentary on Chapter 1, these are (1) choosing good teachers; (2) keeping one's distance from wicked people; (3) attaining fear of God through being aware of the reward for righteousness and the punishment for sin; (4) pursuing true wisdom while eschewing heresy as set forth in Chapter 2.

Now, in Chapter 3, King Solomon explains what serving God means and the great blessings of long life and peace that it brings.

V 3: "Kindness and truth will not abandon you." - "He begins by emphasizing the qualities of kindness and truth.Kindness means setting oneself to make every effort to show kindness to people and to benefit them with one's possessions and through physical effort, to make them feel good and to seek out peace, goodness and honor for them while being careful not to harm them whether by deeds or words. With this trait one banishes cruelty, selfishness, hatred, jealousy and pride. Truth means not calling evil good or good evil, not using flattery to ingratiate oneself with people, giving honor to the righteous while despising the wicked and judging people fairly without favoritism." (Rabbenu Yona).

Vv 5ff: Perfect trust in God means that one does not put one's trust in man nor in one's own powers and intelligence. "In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths" (v 6): this famous verse teaches that the essence of trust in God is to seek Him out in all the different aspects and details of our lives: it is through this interactive "partnership" with God that all our paths become blessed.

Vv 8-10: Service of God not only brings spiritual benefits but actual physical health and material blessings.

Vv 11ff: Even when one trusts in God, not everything goes well all the time! When seeking to attain wisdom and serve God, one must understand that suffering is an inevitable part of the pathway, "for HaShem reproves those that He loves." (v 12).

V 12: "For its merchandise is better than merchandise of silver." - "In every kind of exchange that people make in business, one person takes this and the other person takes that. But when a person says to his friend, You teach me your chapter and I will teach you my chapter, each one of them ends up with both chapters in hand!" (Rashi).

Vv 17-18: These very beautiful evocations of the great benefits of Torah wisdom are recited in the synagogue after the public Torah reading as the scroll is returned to the ark.

Vv 19-20: "HaShem founded the earth with Wisdom and established the heavens with Understanding; with His Knowledge the depths were split asunder and the clouds drop down the dew." These verses allude to deep kabbalistic secrets of the creation, showing that the wisdom we are exhorted to seek out is the inner wisdom of the Creator Himself.

Vv 21ff: "My son, let them not depart from your eyes." The pursuit of this wisdom requires unremitting application, but this is worth it because of the perfect security and divine protection which it brings.

Vv 27ff set forth the principles with which one who would serve God must govern his conduct towards his fellows. "For the crooked person is an abomination to God, but His secret is with the righteous" (v 32). God deals with all MIDDAH KE-NEGED MIDDAH, "measure for measure".



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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