Vv 1-14: Having warned against associating with the "strange woman" (23:27ff) and falling into drunkenness (23:29-35), King Solomon now warns against following in the ways of those who seek to build their fortunes through robbery and mischief (24:2). Rather, one should seek out wisdom and understanding, for these bring true and enduring wealth, the wealth of the spirit. "For a house is built through wisdom and established through understanding. And with knowledge the rooms will be filled." (vv 3-4). These verses are the foundation for important kabbalistic teachings about the Sefiros of Hochmah, Binah and Da'as.

V 6: "Make your war with wise stratagems (TAHBOULOS)." The war in question is that against our evil urge. It is often impossible to engage the evil urge directly in order to overwhelm it, because its power is very great. It is better to use wise stratagems in order CIRCUMVENT and get around it. For example, when a person rises early in the morning to pray and follows his prayers immediately with a session of Torah study, this takes the wind out of the sails of the evil urge before it even has a chance to attack. "Who do you find fighting the war of the Torah? The person who has in hand bundles (HAVILOT) of Mishnehs!" (Sanhedrin 42a).

Vv 8-9: When a person does not devote his intellectual faculties to the pursuit of wisdom but instead uses them to plot evil, he will get a reputation as a man of mischief and his evil thoughts and scoffing are a sin and an abomination.

Vv 10-12: "If you are weak on the day of adversity, your strength is small indeed." On the simple level, these verses are teaching that one should not abandon his friends on their day of trouble because he will then be too weak to help himself when trouble strikes him. The rabbis darshened that if a person allows himself to become lax in studying the Torah, he will not have the strength to stand on his day of trouble (Rashi on v 10; Berachos 63a).

Vv 13-14: A person should pursue wisdom with the same if not more enthusiasm than that with which people like to eat sweet honey!

V 15ff: Solomon cautions the wicked not to lie in wait to take advantage when they see a righteous man tottering, because even if the Tzaddik falls repeatedly he will still rise up in the end. The final letters of the four Hebrew words SHEVA YIPOL TZADDIK VA-KAM ("the Tzaddik may fall seven times but rises") are an anagram of AMaLeK, the archetypal evil. When the wicked fall, they do not rise up again.

Vv 17-18: Even a righteous person should not exult triumphantly when his enemy falls. For this reason on the festival of Pesach, with the exception of the first day it is customary not to recite the complete HALLEL (Psalms 113-118) so as not to show undue glee at the time of the overthrow of the Egyptians and their drowning in the Red Sea (Yalkut Shimoni).

V 21: "My son, fear God and the king." - "One should show respect to the ruler on condition that he does not turn you away from fear of God: the fear of God always takes priority" (Rashi). ".and do not meddle with those who are given to change (SHONIM)" - "These are the heretics who say there are two (SHNAYIM) domains" (Rashi).

V 23: "These also are sayings for the wise." - "All the teachings below are directed particularly to the sages who sit in judgment - they must have no respect for persons when judging." (Rashi).

Vv 24-25: "One who says to a wicked person, 'You are righteous', will be cursed. But to those who offer reproof, it will be pleasant." Metzudas David (on v 25) explains the connection between these verses: If one tells a wicked person that he is righteous, this will merely encourage him to go further in his wickedness. However, in the case of those who seek to reprove the wicked, it can be advantageous to say to a wicked person, 'In truth you really are a Tzaddik, but you have gone astray in certain particulars and these you should correct'. If they were to openly call him wicked, it could cause him to counter-react and stubbornly protest his innocence, whereas this way they can draw his heart to them and induce him to listen to their words. Metzudas' comment can help us better understand Rabbi Nachman's teaching to search for the good even in bad people in order to elevate them.

V 27: "Prepare your work outside and establish it for yourself in the field, and afterwards build your house." The rabbis interpreted this verse literally as advising that one should first get a place to live, then work on establishing a livelihood (with fields and vineyards) and only afterwards build his house = marry. They also interpreted the verse homiletically as teaching that one should first study Bible, then master the Mishneh, and only afterwards try to darshen and fathom the depths of the Torah (Sotah 44a).

V 30: "I passed by the field of the sluggard." - "This is the person who fails to review what he has studied. First he starts forgetting some of the main principles, and in the end he twists the words of the sages ruling that which is pure to be impure and that which is impure to be pure, and he destroys the world" (Rashi). The Talmud darshens: "I passed by the field of the sluggard" - this alludes to King Ahaz; ".and by the vineyard of a man lacking heart" - this is Menasheh. ".and lo, it was all grown over with thistles" - this is Ammon; ".its face was covered with nettles" - this is Yeho'akim; ".and its stone wall was broken down" - this is Tzedekiah, in whose time the Temple was destroyed (Sanhedrin 103a).


V 1: "These too are the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out." Metzudas David writes on this verse: "It would appear that the proverbs from the beginning of the book up until this point were copied over and available in everyone's hands, but the proverbs from here until the end of the book were only available to the staff of King Hezekiah, who copied these teachings from scrolls of King Solomon that they discovered. This is why it says that THESE TOO are the proverbs of Solomon despite the fact that they were not available to everyone. Nevertheless these too are his teachings, which were copied over by Hezekiah's men, and they are reliably attributed to Solomon."

V 2: "The glory of God is a matter that must be concealed, but the glory of kings is a matter that may be investigated." The "glory of God" refers to the esoteric wisdom of MA'ASEH MERKAVAH, the "Work of the Chariot" and MA'ASEH BEREISHIS, the "Work of Creation", as well as to those statutes of the Torah that are beyond the grasp of human reason (such as the ashes of the red heifer and the prohibition against wearing mixtures of wool and linen etc.). It is forbidden to investigate these matters too deeply or to search for reasons. On the other hand, the "glory of kings" alludes to the rulings and enactments which the sages made as a "fence" around the Torah: here it is permitted to investigate and ask for reasons (Rashi).

Vv 4-5: Just as the removal of impure admixtures from silver leads to the production of a good vessel, so the removal of the wicked from the kingdom establishes the throne of the ruler.

Vv 6-7: It is unadvisable to flaunt oneself before those who are greater than oneself; it is better to wait modestly to be called to greatness rather than to push oneself forward only to be cast down.

V 11: "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken fitly (AL OPHNAV)." The phrase AL OPHNAV literally means either "on its foundation" or "on its wheel". Just as golden knobs set on a background of silver are most beautiful, so is a word - a MASHAL or "metaphor" - that sits and fits perfectly on its basis, which is the NIMSHAL or subject of the comparison. A good MASHAL should perfectly reflect and constantly return to its NIMSHAL just as a wheel revolves and always goes back to its place (cf. Metzudas David).

V 14: When someone boastfully gets up in the synagogue and promises a large gift of charity but then fails to deliver, it is like clouds and vapors but no rain: the poor are desperately longing for his help, and it does not materialize (Rashi).

V 15: While God is still showing patience before exacting retribution, this is when the sinners should set themselves to conciliate Him with repentance and prayer, for a "soft tongue" - prayer and supplication - have the power to break the harsh decree (Rashi).

Vv 21f: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat." The rabbis darshened: If your enemy, the evil urge, is "hungry" and tells you to satisfy him with sins, then you should take yourself off to the study hall and feed him with the bread and water of Torah, for this way you rake burning coals onto his head, and God will deliver you from him so that he will not get the better of you (Succah 52a).

V 27: "Eating too much honey is not good, but the investigation of their glory is glory." Eating too much honey gin refers to delving too deeply into the esoteric wisdom of the Work of Creation and the Work of the Chariot. One should not reveal these secrets in public as it causes the ignorant to ridicule them and to enquire "what is above" and "what is below". Where then should one focus one's investigations? Upon the words of the sages, "whose glory is glory": it is permitted to ask the reasons for their various enactments and for the "fences" they erected around the Torah (Rashi).

V 28: A person who cannot control his own temper makes himself vulnerable to danger just like a city whose defenses have been torn down.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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