Proverbs – Chapter 21

Nothing Compare 2 U

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

In this Proverb, Solomon compares the heart of a king to a stream, which G-d can direct any way He wishes. Every person’s actions are proper in his own eyes, but G-d can view them all objectively. G-d would rather people behave properly in the first place than bring Him sacrifices. The wicked plant the sins of their arrogance and lusts. A person who acts with proper diligence will have success, while one who acts impulsively will come up empty-handed. A person who uses deceit to enrich himself is inviting death. The wealth that the wicked have gained dishonestly will ultimately become a source of fear to them, as punishment for their crimes.

A person who does not behave properly can change his ways, but a person doing the right thing should keep on with the way he’s been going. In a verse referring to the destruction of the first Temple, Solomon says that it is better for G-d to withdraw His Presence than to continue to dwell with Israel, whom he compares to an argumentative wife. Unlike righteous people, wicked people do not approve of the deeds of one another. A fool needs to see a stubborn person be punished in order to “get the hint,” but a wise person will take constructive criticism when it is offered to him. G-d sets His eye on the wicked and overturns them.

A person who refuses to hear the cries of the needy will himself cry out unheeded. The charity one gives quietly will turn aside even great anger that G-d may have towards a person. A righteous person rejoices when G-d punishes him in order to correct his ways; evil people suffer needlessly, because they stubbornly refuse to be corrected. A person who strays from Torah will end up in a bad place, one who parties hearty will come to ruin, and one who always satisfies his desires will never be rich (Rashi says with wisdom – remember, wealth is a recurring metaphor for Torah in this Book!).

An evil person will be exchanged as ransom for a righteous one. (Rashi gives the example of Haman being hanged instead of Mordechai.) One is better off living alone in the wilderness than to live with an argumentative spouse. (Again, this is a metaphor for G-d’s Presence withdrawing from the Temple.) A wise man conserves his resources, while a foolish person consumes them immediately. A person who chases after righteousness and kindness will meet with honor.

Solomon says that a wise man ascended to a city of the mighty and came back with the source of their strength; Rashi tells us that this refers to Moses, who ascended Sinai, dwelled among the angels and returned with the Torah. A person who watches what he says is protecting his very soul. Someone who is full of himself will become the kind of person who mocks because he will not heed rebuke. Laziness leads to one’s demise through passivity. G-d despises the offerings of evil people who have not repented of their sins – how much more so He despises it when one brings a sacrifice with evil intentions! (Rashi gives us the example of Balaam, who brought sacrifices while planning to curse Israel.)

False witnesses will disappear, but those who obey G-d’s word will endure forever. Evil people reveal their true colors when they get angry, but the righteous will demonstrate their understanding. There is no human wisdom analogous to Divine wisdom; G-d is so far beyond us, there’s just no comparison. An army might prepare their horses for battle, but the outcome is up to G-d.

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