BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Proverbs 22-23
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
PROVERBS CHAPTER 22
V 1: The “name” that should be chosen more than great wealth is one’s own good name and reputation as keeper of God’s Torah. It is also THE “good name”, God’s holy Name that we should set before us at all times (Psalm 16:8; Shulhan Aruch, Orah Hayim 1:1). The “grace” (HEIN) that is better than silver and gold is the vessel one constructs through one’s Torah study, prayers, good deeds and attributes in order to receive the light of God’s presence in the form of awareness and knowledge of God (Likutey Moharan I:1).
V 2. The rich and the poor man meet when the poor man says to the rich man give me livelihood and the latter answers harshly. They meet again in the wheel of destiny, for “God makes them all” – He brings them to life again and makes the rich man poor and the poor man rich! (Rashi).
V 3: The prudent man sees evil – the punishment for sin – and hides away: he does not carry out the sin (Rashi).
V 4: English translations render: “The reward (EKEV) of humility is fear of God,” implying that fear of God comes as a result of and is a higher level than humility. But literally EKEV means a “heel” – i.e. implying that the main thing is humility, and its lowest level, the “heel”, is fear of God (Rashi).
V 5: “Thorns (TZEENIM) and snares are in the way of the stubborn.” From this the rabbis deduced that everything is in the hands of heaven (determined by God) except for chills and colds (the root TZANAN means to be chilled), which a person allows to come upon him through his own obstinate negligence, while one who guards his life and soul will keep away from the things that cause them (Avodah Zarah 3b)..
V 6: “According to what you teach a young child and how you educate him in different things whether for good or for bad, even when he is old he will not veer from that path” (Rashi). Early education in the good ways of God’s Torah is vital.
V 7: “The rich man rules over the poor people” – the ordinary people are always in need of a student of the Torah (Rashi).
V 8: As one sows, so one reaps – according to one’s behavior in this life, so is the reward one receives afterwards. A person may rule over people with fierce anger, but eventually his straw stick of dominion is worn down because he uses up his own power (Rashi).
V 10: “Cast out the scorner and contention will go away…” The “scorner” is the evil urge (Rashi). By wholeheartedly embracing the good within us and dissociating ourselves from our bad impulses and negativity, we may free ourselves of inner conflict and attain harmony.
V 11: When one frees one’s heart of impurity and sanctifies his lips by speaking only words of grace – Torah and devotion – God loves him and favors him (Rashi).
V 13: “The lazy man says, ‘There’s a lion outside, I’ll get slain in the streets'” – “He says, How can I go out to learn Torah?” (Rashi).
V 14: The “strange woman” whose mouth is a “deep pit” is the preacher of heresy and idolatry.
V 15: King Solomon teaches us not to idealize children and imagine them to be perfect angels because “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”. Children are subject to a natural folly, and they have to be trained with the “rod of correction”. Likewise in ch 23 v 13 King Solomon advises not to spare the child correction, “for if you strike him with the rod he will not die”. The sages were opposed to cruel physical punishment but understood better than contemporary psychologists and “experts” in discipline that at times children are in need of wisely administered physical punishment in order to grow out of this natural folly.
V 16: If a person oppresses the poor for his own gain, he will eventually have to give away all his money to wealthy idolaters and the governments of the nations so that all his efforts result only in his own loss (Rashi).
From the beginning of Proverbs Chapter 10 until this point the entire text has consisted of one-verse aphorisms that are often if not mostly unconnected thematically with those preceding and following them. However, from Chapter 22:17 onwards longer sequences of verses are often employed, making up short discourses, though not of the length of the discourses with which the book of Proverbs opens in Chs 1-9.
Vv 17ff: “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise” – try to learn Torah from even the merest sage; “and apply your heart to MY knowledge” – if your teacher is wicked, don’t learn from his behavior (Rashi). It is to the quest for the inner knowledge of God that Solomon is telling us to give our hearts – “In order that your trust may be in HaShem” (v 19): this is the very essence.
V 20: “Have I not written for you excellent things (SHALEESHIM)”. SHALEESHIM literally means captains, honored leaders (cf. Ex. 16:4) – Solomon’s proverbs are all important teachings. SHALEESHIM also has the connotation of “threefold”, alluding to the Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kesubim (Holy Writings). “If you say, How can I trust in God and turn my heart from all other activities so as to study the words of my teachers – maybe they are mistaken and there is no place to trust in God and expect to receive a reward – King Solomon answers this objection by saying that you can find words of true counsel and knowledge in the books of the Torah (Metzudas David). Even if you feel you cannot fully trust the people who are teaching you Torah, if you are willing to delve into the Torah itself you will be able to find the truth.
Vv 22-29 is a short PARSHAH PESUHAH (“open”, free-standing section) containing several pieces of advice. (1) vv 22-23: Don’t oppress the poor even though they are weak, because God will stand up for and avenge them. (2) vv 24-25: Don’t befriend angry types because you will learn from their bad ways, which will be a snare for you; (3) vv 26-27: Don’t get involved in deals that leave you with commitments that you are unable to meet to the point where your creditors take everything from you. (4) v 28: Don’t encroach on others’ territory, literally – and also, don’t encroach on the boundaries set by the fathers: these are the ancestral customs of Israel such as the three daily prayers, which should not be changed… (Yalkut Shimoni. (5) v 29: Be energetic and enthusiastic in your service of God.
Vv 1-5: Ostensibly this short discourse advises against succumbing to the temptation to join the mighty and powerful in order to become wealthy because their tasty dainties are the bread of deception and any wealth one may gain will eventually fly off and disappear. However, the sages darshened this discourse as advice to a student sitting before his teacher seeking to gain the wealth of Torah: “Consider well he that is before you” – “If you know that he will give you an answer to anything that you ask him, be careful to ask him whatever you need to know. But if not, keep quiet (v 2 – “put a knife in your throat”) and (v 3) separate yourself from him in order to go to a worthy teacher. Vv 4-5: Don’t try to “get rich” in your studies by learning heaps of unrelated details which you will only forget – try to understand how the various details fit logically together (Hullin 6a).
Vv 6-8: Don’t eat the bread of the mean-eyed.
V 9: Don’t waste wise words on a fool who will despise their wisdom.
V 10: Don’t encroach on others’ rights, such as that of poor orphans to the agricultural gifts that must be given to the poor: LEKET, the gleanings, SHICH’HAH, the forgotten sheaf and PE’AH, the corner of the field that must be left unharvested (Rashi).
Vv 12-14: Submit yourself to correction and chastisement and do not withhold it from those whom it is your responsibility to educate – correction DOES NOT KILL!
Vv 15-16: God’s greatest delight is when His children follow the path of wisdom and speak the truth.
Vv 17ff: The perennial temptation is to want to follow the sinning herd because of their apparent success. Don’t give in.
V 20-21: Don’t give into the desire to quaff wine and eat much meat in this world, for those drunk with and gluttonous for the pleasures of this world will end up poor in Torah and they will have nothing but tattered rags with which to clothe their souls in the world of truth.
V 23: It is forbidden to “sell” the Torah by charging a fee for teaching. Yet if you see that the only way to acquire the truth is by paying, “Acquire the truth…” (See Bechoros 29a).
Vv 26-28: Again and again Solomon reiterates the importance of following the path of Torah wisdom and distancing oneself from the “harlot” and “alien woman” = heresy.
Vv 29-35 give a vivid depiction of the cries, complaints and self-caused injuries of the red-eyed drunkards who sit up late drinking, always in search of good liquor. One should not so much as look at wine when it is red (v 31), despite the fact that it is so lusciously tempting and high quality (on the basis of this verse, red wine is considered the best and choicest for Kiddush and the Four Cups of Pesach). The redness alludes to GEVURAH, the very might that contracts and conceals Godliness. Thus the drunkenness depicted in this section comes from the “wine” of alien wisdom offered by the strange woman. In the end it bites like a serpent (v 32) making the eye see strange things and turning the heart into confusion (v 33). The person ends up completely addicted (v 35).