Verses 1-12 speak out in various ways against the "fool" - KH'SEEL. The KH'SEELIM are defined by Rabbenu Yonah (on Proverbs 1:22) as those who have acquired a stock of bad deeds, transgressing in order to satisfy the demands of their eyes for pleasures and delights. He explains that when a person pursues worldly pleasures, he becomes ever more distant from the spiritual and intellectual levels of his soul.

V 1: "Like snow in summer and like rain at harvest time, so honor is not seemly for a fool." Snow in the summer fruit-drying season is disastrous, as is rain during the harvest. Likewise, honor - meaning not only worldly prestige but also knowledge of the Torah, particularly its esoteric dimension, as in 25:2 above - is not fitting for one who is not in control of his evil urge.

V 2: Such a person is liable to lash out at others with harsh judgments and curses. One need not worry when abused by a fool: he may scatter gratuitous curses like darting birds, but if they go anywhere it is only upon himself.

V 3: Chastisement is the only medicine for the KH'SEEL, who is like a stubborn animal.

Vv 4-5: These two verses teach us when to avoid an argument with a KH'SEEL and when it is necessary to answer him. If the KH'SEEL tries to draw one into a quarrel, one should give no answer in order not to lower oneself to his level (v 4). However, if the KH'SEEL makes an assertion which, if unanswered, will cause him to be wise in his own eyes, it is necessary to counter it explicitly and not to leave him unanswered (Rashi).

V 6: It is not worth appointing a KH'SEEL as one's representative or envoy because this will involve one in much extra work trying to undo the damage he is liable to cause.

V 7: A person limps when one thigh is higher than the other. Likewise when the fool employs a MASHAL to express himself, it is not even with - it does not FIT - the NIMSHAL, and his thoughts merely "limp".

V 8: The MARGEMA is a sling: a stone placed in it does not stay there long, and likewise the honor - Torah knowledge - transmitted to a fool does not stay with him. From this verse the sages deduced that teaching an unworthy student is like practicing the idolatrous ritual of throwing stones towards MARKULIS (Hullin 133a).

Vv 9-10: Rashi interprets these two verses as connected. The MASHAL or parable touted by the fools (v 9) is that expressed in v 10: God created everything (=RAV MEHOLEL KOL) and evidently employs both fools and idlers for His purposes. Since He seemingly judges everyone equally, whether wise or foolish, there is no need to pursue wisdom! This false proverb provides the fool with justification for continuing on his own path of folly.

Vv 13-16 speak out against the sluggard, who finds endless excuses for avoiding doing what he has to do, turning from side to side on his bed in order to avoid getting up.

Vv 17ff preach against various kinds of evil-intentioned, quarrelsome and argumentative types. V 17 cautions not to get involved in other people's strife as this is like taking a dog by the ears, only to get bitten.

Vv 18-19: "As a madman who casts firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man that deceives his neighbor and says, 'Am I not in sport?'" - these verses are taken to typify ISHMAEL, whom Sarah saw "playing" with Isaac (Gen. 21:9; see Rashi on Gen. 29:10).

V 20: Contention is caused by somebody: there is always someone who instigates it.

Vv 23ff: Burning lips and a wicked heart are the hallmarks of those dissimulators who speak smooth, seductive words as if they love their listeners when in fact they are their enemies and harbor evil intentions.

V 27: The archetypal case of one who dug a pit only to fall into it was Bilaam, who advised Balak to seduce Israel with the Midianite women but when he went to Midian to demand his reward, he was killed there. The archetypal case of one who rolled a stone that later killed him was Avimelech: he killed his seventy brothers on one stone, but in the end was killed by a millstone that crushed his head (Judges 9:53; see Rashi on Proverbs 26:27).


V 1: "Man proposes but God disposes": When making plans for the future, those who fear God and know His great power qualify themselves by saying, IM YIRTZEH HASHEM - "if God wills".

V 5: Even if a person is subject to an open rebuke that causes him shame and embarrassment, this is good if it stems from true love hidden in the heart of the one delivering the rebuke.

V 7: When a Torah student feels he has already learned sufficient and does not yearn for more wisdom, he comes to loathe even "honeycomb" - he is not interested even in sound Torah reason. But for a person who craves Torah wisdom, even the things that come to him with bitterness and effort are sweet to him (cf. Rashi).

V 8: Just as it is hard for a bird to be away from her nest, so it is hard for a person to be away from his true place. This alludes to the soul, whose true place is in the world to come and which is like a wanderer in this world (Zohar Dvarim 278a).

V 9: Offering sweet words of wise counsel to our friends is the surest way to uplift them.

V 10: "Do not forsake your own friend." (=God) ".and your father's friend." (God favored your fathers, and if you forsake Him you will suffer.) ".neither go into your brother's house in the day of your calamity." (do not trust that the children of Esau and Ishmael will show you favor). "Better is a neighbor that is near." (this is God, who is NEAR to those who call Him) ".than a distant brother" (this is Esau; Rashi).

V 14: "He that blesses his friend in a loud verse early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him." The Midrash gives examples of people who loudly praised the great wealth and success of certain individuals, only to cause government officials to confiscate their possessions or thieves to steal them (Avot d'Rabbi Nathan 22b).

V 17: Torah students sharpen each other mentally through their discussions (Rashi).

V 19: The feelings we radiate to others have a decisive influence over the feelings they radiate back. The more we open our hearts and show kindness to those to whom we seek to reach out, the easier they will find it to open their hearts to us.

V 21: ".and a man is tried by his praise" - "In virtue of the way people praise a person for his good deeds, he is tested as to whether he is good or bad" (Rashi).

Vv 23-27 are ostensibly addressed to the shepherd or owner of flocks cautioning him to consider constantly what they need, for the investment will be well worth it. Wealth and power are evanescent, but even when there is no more pasture left for the flocks, the flock-owner will still benefit from their wool, their skins and meat and cheese etc. Homiletically, these verses are darshened as advising the Rabbi appointed over the community to take his "flock" under his wing and lead them gently, so that he will eat the fruits of his endeavors while the principal will remain. As his teachings spread, these "lambs" will provide him with "garments", for his students will give him a name and a garb of splendor and glory (Rashi).



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