Love Conquers All (and other Proverbs)By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter starts with the introductory phrase, “Proverbs of Solomon,” indicating that it is the start of the second section of the Book. In this section, the chapters have less of a thematic connection, and often contain a series of individual lessons.
Solomon starts by saying that a wise son makes his father (or, possibly, his Father) proud, but a foolish son pains his mother. Ill-gotten gains will not help a person, but the merit of giving charity can save one from death. A person lacking in Torah will make himself false scales, both literally and metaphorically. Those who judge justly will be richly rewarded.
The wise son gathers his crops at the proper time, while the foolish son sleeps through the harvest. (Sounds a little like the fable of the grasshopper and the ant, doesn’t it? Well, Solomon did tell us in chapter 6 to look to the ant and emulate her ways.) The wise embrace G-d’s commandments, while the foolish consider them a burden. The former will be secure, while the latter will be broken. A person who entices others to sin brings evil to the world, but the words of the righteous are a source of life.
When people quarrel, even things supposedly “forgiven and forgotten” get brought up again, but when people act with love towards one another, all their past indiscretions can be overlooked. (It’s the same with G-d: when we please Him by improving our deeds, He will overlook our previous mistakes.) A wise person acknowledges the error of their ways when it is pointed out to them, while the foolish deny and deny even as they’re suffering the consequences of their actions. (Rashi gives an example of each of these. David acknowledged his sin when the prophet Nathan brought it to his attention in II Samuel chapter 12. The Pharaoh of the Exodus, however, suffered plague after plague rather than change his ways.) The actions of the righteous rush them towards life, while those of the wicked lead to sin, and therefore death. (Rashi contrasts the righteousness of Solomon himself with his descendant, the evil King Menashe. Solomon built the Temple, a source of life, while Menashe desecrated it with idols.)
If a person fails to rebuke others for their misdeeds, going so far as to flatter them for their actions, then he is misleading them and not doing them any favors. A gossip will not be respected by others for this repulsive habit. Verbosity invariably leads to sin, so you’d be wise to speak little. Righteous people carefully choose their words and their prayers bring much good into the world. Foolish people perish because they refuse to listen when others try to correct them.
Material blessings come from G-d and, no matter how hard we work, we cannot walk away with more than He has decreed for us. Foolish people carry out sinful acts without even thinking about them; the wise consider their actions and proceed accordingly. The wicked will receive that which they most fear, while the righteous will have their hearts’ desires. (Rashi gives us an example of the wicked receiving that which they dread. The builders of the “Tower of Babel” in Genesis chapter 11 feared being scattered across the land, the very fate they brought upon themselves. That is the very definition of irony.) The wicked disappear suddenly, as if in a whirlwind, but the righteous stand fast.
The righteous can expect to ultimately see joy; that which the wicked hope to see will not come to pass. The righteous may be down from time to time, but they will not remain there. Conversely, the wicked constantly skate along the edge of disaster. The words of the righteous are pleasant and spread wisdom, while the wicked speak lies and it’s only a matter of time before their tongues get them into trouble.