Proverbs – Chapter 26

Contradiction!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Honor is not fitting for a fool; it’s like snow in the summer or rain during the harvest. (In an agricultural society, these things are not just incongruous or inconvenient, they are overtly detrimental!) A curse uttered casually will come back to haunt the one who said it, like a bird returning to its nest. Fools don’t accept rebuke until something bad happens, like a horse that needs to be switched to drive it back onto the path.

Verse 4: Don’t answer a fool because you will appear equally foolish. Verse 5: Answer a fool so that he doesn’t think his words are wise. Huh? These two verses – which appear immediately next to one another – appear to contradict. In fact, they seem so blatantly contradictory that the Sages almost declined to include Proverbs in the canon until they reconciled the apparent difficulty. One should answer a fool in matters of Torah, but not in other matters. (See the Talmud in Shabbos, page 30b.)

A person who uses a fool as his messenger wastes energy, because he will have to send others to correct the fool’s mistakes; additionally, he exasperates the recipient! Fools cannot evaluate wisdom in order to acquire it. (Solomon uses the metaphor of how a person who cannot walk imagines everyone else’s legs to be.)

G-d created all of us, wise and foolish alike. Unlike human employers, who have no use for fools, G-d does have a role for them in His world. A dog eats something disgusting, brings it up, then eats it again. Similarly, fools repeat the same mistakes over and over. But as bad off as a fool is, a person who considers himself wise is even more hopeless. (At least a fool knows he has improvement to make – the person who thinks he knows it all has no place to go!)

A lazy person finds excuses never to get anything done, with the result that he just stays in bed. When he reaches into his pot for food, he will find it empty, because he hasn’t earned anything. And yet, the lazy person thinks he’s smarter than any seven people put together! (Well, it does take some ingenuity to come up with so many excuses…)

Getting involved in a fight that doesn’t concern you is like grabbing a dog by the ears – not a good idea. A person who deceives others and says, “Just kidding!” is like a person playing with deadly weapons. Just like a fire goes out without fuel, a fight will die down without an instigator. An instigator’s words are like projectiles causing injuries to a person in battle.

Smooth words and evil intent are used to entice people to folly like a silver coating on a clay pot. When an enemy tries to persuade you, don’t listen; he does not have your best interests at heart. In fact, he wishes a multitude of bad things upon you! He plots his evil in secret, but G-d will cause it to be revealed to all. The plotter will fall into his own pit or be crushed by his own stone. (Rashi refers to Balaam and Avimelech, who were undone by their own evil schemes.) A person who accepts words of slander hates those he crushes as a result, and accepting words of flattery distances one from G-d. (Rashi cites Saul, who destroyed the city of Nov as a result of slander. See Balaam in Numbers 22-24, although his demise is not recorded until Number 31:8; Avimelech killed at a rock and was killed by a rock in Judges 9; Saul accepts slander and overreacts in I Samuel 22.)

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