Proverbs – Chapter 14

All Talk, No Action

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

The actions of wise women firmly establish their homes, while those of foolish women tear theirs down. (That is, they encourage their families to take either appropriate paths or paths leading to destruction.) A fool is arrogant and his speech reflects it; the mouths of wise people protect them from harm. Without oxen, the barn is empty – the work can’t get done. (Rashi says that, allegorically, the oxen are Torah scholars. Without them to instruct the nation, things would collapse.) An honorable person is a reliable witness, but you can’t trust a known liar (like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”).

People who mock will be unable to find wisdom when they need it, because they are unaccustomed to it. A person who is used to acting with wisdom will always find it close at hand. Stay away from fools – they’ll drain the wisdom right out of you. Fools do the wrong thing, then have to pay for it or otherwise make it up to the injured party; it’s so much better to act with your eyes open and avoid problems at the outset. The heart knows how much effort a person has put into his Torah studies; those who haven’t will not share in that reward.

The evil nations, though powerful, will topple. The righteous, whose existence appears to be tenuous, will thrive. People justify their sins, but they still lead to death. G-d may permit idolators to laugh in this world, but tears are coming. An improper person may enjoy the fruits of his actions, but a proper person is above him. (Rashi applies this verse to Esau and Jacob, respectively – and, presumably, to the nations descended from them.) A fool accepts everything at face value; a clever person investigates a matter. Quick-tempered people end up doing stupid things. In the future, the evil people will defer to the righteous.

A person who is bereft of knowledge is not well-liked because he doesn’t know how to interact with others. Those who are full of knowledge have far more friends. To disregard a person who deserves honor is a shameful thing to do; it is a very good thing to show favor to the humble.

Actions lead to results; idle talk accomplishes nothing. The wise can wear their knowledge in Torah like a crown, while the fools have nothing but their own foolishness. Honest witnesses are heroes; liars are villains. People who have proper awe of G-d can be relied upon to keep their words; this will be a merit for their families. G-d is glorified among a crowd of people; a dearth of people is an embarrassment to Him. (This verse, “b’rov am hadras Melech,” is the source of preferably performing certain mitzvos, such as reading the Megillah on Purim, in large groups.) A forgiving heart, one that “heals” and overlooks transactions, is a cause of life, but hanging on to anger metaphorically rots a person’s bones.

Oppressing the needy is an affront to G-d Himself; helping them out honors Him. The wicked person is cast down in death, but the righteous can pass away confident that good things await them. Giving charity elevates the nation because they do it altruistically. To do acts of kindness with ulterior motives, such as to be honored, removes the merit from the act. The king is pleased with an intelligent servant, while a foolish servant angers and embarrasses him.

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