Proverbs – Chapter 19

Chinese Water Torture

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

It’s better to be poor but honest than to attempt to profit through deceit. It’s not good to live without Torah; sinners say that certain rules are insignificant and then violate them. A person’s sins cause him harm, but his lack of wisdom clouds his judgment. When he’s punished for his sins, he doesn’t recognize that he brought this upon himself and he blames G-d for his troubles. People crowd around a rich person, but a poor man loses even the friends he started out with. (As elsewhere in Proverbs, wealth can be seen as a metaphor for Torah and rich people are scholars.) False witnesses will be punished (by G-d if not by man) and the plot of liars will be found out. Generous people will be so successful that even the great will go to them for aid; everyone loves a person who freely dispenses gifts. People stay away from someone who has nothing to give. (Again, wealth represents Torah, so the generous person is a teacher to the masses.)

A person who pursues wisdom is one who loves his soul. If he preserves his knowledge, he will benefit from it. Fools don’t deserve to enjoy goodness; even more so, a slave does not deserve to rule over princes. (The slave doesn’t know how to do that job wisely and enjoying pleasures will impede the fool from getting over the nonsense in which he is immersed.) It’s good to be even-tempered and it’s even better to be able to overlook slights. When G-d gets angry, it’s like having a lion roaring at us, but when our actions please Him, it’s as beneficial as the dew on the grass.

The actions of a foolish child can ruin his parents and an argumentative spouse is like a constant, annoying drip. One can inherit money from his ancestors, but only G-d can give him a wife with good judgment. Laziness makes one sloppy and negligent, and one who tries to take “short cuts” will suffer in the end. Performing G-d’s commandments preserves our lives; giving charity to a poor person is like lending to G-d and He will repay you. Discipline your children because there is always the hope of correcting them; do not give up on them.

Those who are easily angered will receive punishments, but those who can put their anger aside will increase his fortune. Listen to advice and accept criticism so that you may be wise in your later years. People make many plans, but it’s G-d’s plan that will see fruition. (This verse is sung as a popular song, “Rabos Machshavos.”) The best thing about a person is his kindness, so it’s better to be generous and poor than to make promises and not keep them. A person who defers to G-d’s word will enjoy life without fear.

A person must work for a living; a lazy person will reach into his pot and find it empty. If a person who mocks is punished, he may not take the lesson, but others who witness it just might. (Rashi applies this verse to Yisro – Jethro – the father-in-law of Moses. He saw what happened to Pharaoh and Amalek when they antagonized G-d, and decided to convert.) A disgraceful son shames his father and causes his mother to flee. (Rashi refers to Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac, which led to Hagar’s expulsion with him.) Solomon urges the reader to not stray from wisdom (Torah), but rather to remain and learn the proper ways. A faithless witness testifies in such a way as to appear honest, but violence will be his end. There are punishments designated for those who mock and those who refuse wisdom.

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