Proverbs – Chapter 13

Hope Deferred and Spoil the Child

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Solomon says that a wise son actively pursues his father’s input and corrections. (Rashi suggests that it is the father’s direction that makes the son wise.) A person who mocks despises criticism. A person will benefit from the words of Torah he learns, while untrustworthy people will reap violence. To watch your mouth is to protect your very soul; the more you open it, the more you court disaster. Lazy people want things, but they are not willing to take the steps necessary to acquire them. Diligent people work to satisfy their needs. (Rashi says that this may refer to the reward for Torah study, which not everyone is motivated enough to pursue.)

Righteous people hate falsehood, while wicked people love to spread gossip and slander. A person who robs and oppresses others may appear to be rich, but in the end he has nothing. A person who is generous and charitable appears to have given it all away, but he has great rewards waiting for him. Your wealth can ransom your soul from punishment, if it is used charitably. (The wealth in the previous verse can also be understood as referring to the merit of Torah study, rather than to money.) The soul of the righteous glows brightly like the sun, while that of the wicked flickers out like a candle.

Verse 11 literally says that one who profits from dishonest means will lose it but one who earns his money will see it increase. As many of these Proverbs are multi-faceted, they have additional, allegorical meanings. Rashi interprets this verse to also refer to Torah study. One who gathers his learning by the batch will gradually forget it, one piece at a time. A person who carefully masters his studies will retain them over time. Of course, we see this is true, as students who “cram” for their exams may perform well on their tests, but they do not retain the knowledge over time, as opposed to those who study diligently over the course of the semester.

In a famous verse, Solomon says that hope deferred makes a heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is like a tree of life. Rashi says that a “hope deferred” means when one relies completely on another to fulfill a task, putting in no effort on his own part. A person who resents words of Torah will see that he owes his very life to them, while one who loves G-d’s words will be rewarded. A scholar teaches people the way of life, away from traps that lead to death. Acting with good sense will endear you to people. Clever people plan ahead, while fools are impulsive. Faithless messengers cause trouble, while faithful representatives solve problems, (Rashi uses Balaam and Moses, both prophets of G-d, as examples of these extremes.)

Every person is happy when his desires are fulfilled, which is why foolish people refuse to refrain from doing evil: self-gratification. You can follow the wise people and become one of them, or follow the fools and meet their fate along with them. A good person leaves many merits for his descendants, while all a wicked person leaves behind is money, which will ultimately find its way into the hands of the righteous. (Rashi gives the example of Mordechai and Esther inheriting Haman’s wealth.)

A few closing Proverbs from this chapter:

* Much food comes into the world because of the efforts of the lowly farmhands, though some is lost because the owners do not act properly. (Metaphorically, the food represents Torah insights and the efforts of the poor farmhands refers to the debates of the students.)

* A person who doesn’t correct his child when called for isn’t doing him any favors. If you love your kid, set him straight early on. (This verse is the source of the common expression, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” although we would oppose literally disciplining your child with a rod.)

* Righteous people eat to feed their hunger and are satisfied with what they have; wicked people feed their desires and are never satisfied. (It’s the difference between “eating to live” and “living to eat.”)

Download Audio File