Welcome to ProverbsBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs, was written by King Solomon and edited by the court of his descendant King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah). The Book starts by introducing the author as “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel.” In this case, the apple did not fall far from the tree – David and Solomon were both known for their wisdom and piety (although wisdom was Solomon’s predominant characteristic and piety was David’s).
Solomon authored three Books of the Bible: Mishlei (Proverbs), Koheles (Ecclesiastes), and Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs). There is a difference of opinion as to which book was composed at which stage of Solomon’s career. The commentators try to derive hints from the introductory phrases of these books. For example, Proverbs names Solomon’s father, suggesting that he might not have been as well known as when he wrote Song of Songs, which just says “by Solomon.” However, there is no conclusive consensus on the matter.
This chapter addresses the purpose of the Book: so that Solomon can share some wisdom and insight. Through his words, simple people will be warned against being deceived and wiser people will add to their knowledge. There will be allegories and metaphors that can be understood on more than one level. And the start of learning is to place ourselves in awe of G-d. Those who cannot humble themselves before Him are incapable of learning.
In a famous verse, Solomon says, “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your mother!” These gifts of learning, which are transmitted to the Jewish people from previous generations, are an adornment for the nation. But if evil people try and persuade you to participate in their activities, do not listen to them; their path leads to doom, not only for their victims, but for themselves. The path of robbery and violence inevitably leads to self-destruction.
The wisdom of Torah rings out in public places, asking the people how much longer they would like to immerse themselves in ignorance and nonsense. They should hear the words of rebuke and return to G-d. They have been called, but they don’t answer! Because they didn’t listen to the words of Torah, they should not expect wisdom to respond when they cry out for it in their times of trouble. When disaster strikes suddenly, it will be nowhere to be found. The people spurned knowledge and submission to G-d. They wouldn’t take the advice when it was offered to them, so they will deal with the consequences of their own decisions. Their own complacency will prove their undoing. But those who heed the words of wisdom will have no reason to fear