Proverbs – Chapter 17

Know When To Zip It

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

It’s better to have a dry crust of bread and a peaceful environment than a house full of sacrifices and antagonism. (Rashi says that this refers to G-d’s reason for destroying the Temple.) A wise slave will rule over the disgraced son and he will have a share in the inheritance among the brothers. (Again, Rashi says this verse refers to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian conquest of Judah.) A pot is used to refine silver, a furnace is used to refine gold, and G-d Himself refines the human heart. Evil people speak the language of violence. Those who oppress the poor mock G-d, Who allocates to each person his lot in life. A person who takes joy in the suffering of others will find himself the victim of those same misfortunes.

Grandchildren honor their grandparents by following the proper path, while righteous parents are an honor for their children. Proud words are not fit for a disgusting person and lies do not befit a generous person. (In other words, the type of speech used to describe a person should be appropriate.) When a person repents and returns to G-d, he is precious to G-d as a jewel and G-d grants him favor. If you don’t remind someone of their past indiscretions, he will love you for it, but if you bear a grudge, you antagonize G-d. Criticism can effect more change in a wise person than a beating will make in a fool. If a person lives to stir up trouble, he will be judged harshly in the Next World.

One would be better off confronting a mad bear than a fool armed with all of his nonsense. If a person betrays someone who has done good for him, he will be eternally plagued with evil. (This is because no one else will ever come to his aid, having learned his true colors.) A person who starts an argument is like one who breaches a dam, letting the water flow. Stop the fight before it gets out of hand.

G-d hates both exonerating evil people and vilifying righteous people – not only in court, but even in words of praise and criticism. Why do foolish people bother learning Torah that they never intend to keep? Be good to your friends because they will be with you in times of trouble, just like a brother. A person lacking in common sense holds collateral for a loan, which creates strife and ultimately lands himself in court. A person who loves sin also loves arguments and those who are arrogant are courting disaster. (See the previous chapter, in which “pride goeth before a fall.”) People whose thoughts are twisted will never enjoy the good of this world, since they are incapable of knowing it when they see it. Two-faced liars will suffer the evil they intended for their victims.

If a person has a foolish child, or worse still, one of base and lowly character, it is a source of distress to him. Happiness enhances the intelligence, while dissatisfaction is a source of rot. G-d accepts the private prayers of the wicked, sparing them their evil fates. Wisdom is directly in front of us; the wise look right at it, while the foolish look all over the world. (Rashi says that the foolish perceive the goal as being insurmountable, so they never start to learn. The wise do a little at a time until they have mastered it all.) A foolish child is a source of aggravation to his parents. It’s not good to punish the innocent along with the guilty. (Rashi says that this is why G-d has not destroyed the nation in His anger.) A wise person knows when to hold his tongue; even to silence a fool from speaking nonsense is considered a wise move. If you know when to keep quiet, you will be considered a person of understanding.

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