Proverbs – Chapter 18

The Rest of the Story

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Solomon says that a person who has become separated from G-d pursues his physical lusts and desires until his shame is exposed for all to see. (Rashi applies the verse to Abraham’s nephew Lot, who pursued materialism in Sodom and ended up illegitimately fathering Amon and Moav with his daughters.) A fool takes no joy in acquiring wisdom, preferring to share what little he possesses. The birth of evil people brings shame and disdain into the world.

Secular knowledge is like a deep well from which one must draw water, but Torah knowledge is like a flowing stream, which rushes towards a person. It’s good when the wicked benefit, because the more they receive in this world, the less they’ll get in the Next. (Conversely, the more the righteous lose in this world, the more they’ll be rewarded in the Next.) Fools love arguments and their words frequently get them into trouble. Complaints are like a punch in the gut. A scholar who slacks off in his learning destroys words of Torah through his inactivity.

G-d’s Name is like a tower of strength, protecting those who seek refuge in it. Wealthy people seek refuge in their money. A person becomes arrogant then falls into ruin, but a humble person will be honored. A person who answers a question before he understands it embarrasses himself. A person whose will is strong can endure many hardships, but if his spirit breaks, he cannot bear it. Understanding people will acquire wisdom; at the very least, wise people will go for expert opinions and will compile knowledge that way. The charity that a person gives clears the way for him before great people in the Next World.

Sometimes a person’s position sounds good, but then you hear the other side of the story. Dividing property by drawing lots can settle arguments; a brother who rebels can lose a city and arguments between brothers can “lock the door” between them forever. (Rashi applies this verse to Lot and Abraham. “Locking the door” may refer to the prohibition against Amon and Moab joining the nation of Israel.) A person will be fed by the words of his mouth – accordingly, depending on whether his words are good or bad. Life and death are in the power of speech, so teach your mouth to speak words of Torah rather than gossip.

A good wife is a treasure and a person who has one has been given a great gift by G-d. (Metaphorically, the wife represents Torah. Remember, these Proverbs are multi-layered, with both simple and deeper meanings.) A poor person approaches humbly, while a rich person barks orders. (These can represent a student and a teacher.) A person can acquire many casual friends, but only one of them will be as loyal as a brother.

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