Proverbs – Chapter 24

Pearls of Wisdom

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Solomon advises us not to be envious of the success of evil people because they’re full of violence and deceit. It takes wisdom to build a house and understanding to run a home. If one has knowledge, then all the rooms will be filled with treasure. A wise person has strength, namely his deference to the word of G-d. (Remember, the start of wisdom is to be in awe of G-d – see 1:7, 9:10 and, most famously, Psalms 111:10.) With wisdom, one can battle his urges and temptations, emerging victorious.

Wisdom is rare among fools, like pearls; they dare not open their mouths in the presence of scholars. Evil people plot evil things; the planning itself is a sin and their mockery distances them from G-d. If a person slacks off when it comes to Torah, he will find his strength depleted in a time of need. If a person doesn’t speak up to save others, can he claim ignorance? G-d knows all and He will hold a person responsible for such inaction (i.e., others will not help help him in his hour of need – this is the strength deserting him, as in the previous verse).

Wisdom is good for the soul like honey is good for the body and sweet to the taste. If you find wisdom, your future is secure. Solomon advises the wicked not to lurk around the righteous, waiting to take advantage of them. The righteous go through many ups and downs, but when evil people fall, they stay down. A person should not rejoice when he sees his enemy fall; you don’t want to make G-d “feel bad” for your enemy and start helping him out against you! Don’t emulate the people who perpetrate evil because they have no future; they will be snuffed out like a flickering light.

Solomon advises the reader to be in awe of G-d and also of the mortal king, so long as their orders to not conflict. (If they do, G-d’s word outranks the king’s.) Don’t listen to those who say that there are two “powers,” one good and one evil (or, perhaps, “one G-d and one devil”). Misfortune will suddenly arise and consume both the idol and the idolator.

More words of wisdom: Do not show respect for people involved in a court case, as it is a form of favoritism. A person who calls an evil man righteous will be cursed by others because his praise only encourages that evil one to continue in his rotten ways. One who chastises the wicked will find things pleasant and good; such a person deserves a kiss. (Not kidding. See verse 26.)

Solomon advises us to prepare our work outside, make it right in the field, and then build the house. Rashi offers two explanations, both from the Talmud in Sotah (44a). The first is that the three levels of outside, field and house refer to different areas of Torah study: Tanach (Bible), Mishna and Gemara (Talmud). The second is that they advise a person to acquire property, stock it with livestock, and then marry. (The Talmud there offers still further explanations.)

Don’t agree to be a witness for your friend in a matter about which you know nothing, even though you believe him. This would inappropriate to do, even if you’re reciprocating a favor.

Solomon says that he passed by the fields of the lazy and the vineyards of the foolish and he saw that they were overgrown with thorns and the walls had been torn down. From this, he says, he took a lesson: don’t sleep more than necessary and even your down periods will not last long. (As elsewhere, the second layer of meaning applies to Torah study. The lazy person who lets thistles grow and allows his fence to be breached is one who does not review what he has learned. See Rashi.)

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