Too Much of a Good ThingBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter marks the start of the third section of the book. It begins with the introductory phrase, “These, too, are the Proverbs of Solomon, transcribed by the court of Chizkiyahu, King of Judah.” (Chizkiyahu, or Hezekiah, was a righteous descendant of David and Solomon and is considered to be as great or nearly as great as they were.) There are different opinions as to whether Chizkiyahu’s court transcribed the entire Book, or just from this point forward.
The honor of G-d is to conceal such matters as the Creation account and the account of the “chariot” (in the first chapter of Ezekiel), but the honor of kings is to investigate a matter. (Rashi explains this to mean that we should delve into reasons for the rules that the Rabbis established, but we have to accept that there are certain things G-d has commanded us that we’re just never going to understand.) Certain things cannot be known – the heights of the heavens, the depths of the Earth and the honor of kings, which Rashi applies to the intricacies of the political process.
If you remove the impurities from silver, then the craftsman has the precious metal he needs to ply his trade. Similarly, remove the wicked from the king’s court and he will be able to judge his people with righteousness. Don’t elevate yourself in front of those who outrank you – it would be far better to be invited up to join them than to be told to step down.
Don’t be quick to get into arguments, because who knows how they’ll end? If you must enter into debate, be sure that your position is correct and that you can defend it. If you get involved in an argument with a friend, stick to the topic and don’t bring in personal or privileged information. If you use something inappropriate in your debate and others overhear it, it can’t be retracted. Words spoken properly are like golden apples served on silver platters; words of rebuke are like jewelry of the finest gold to a receptive ear. A faithful messenger is a refreshing source of pleasure to the one who dispatched him, but a person who boasts and promises things he can’t deliver is like a sky full of clouds that never release their rain.
So long as G-d has not yet taken action, a sinner can get back in His “good graces” with prayer and repentance. If you find honey, don’t eat more than you can handle or it will make you sick. Similarly, be careful not to wear out your welcome with others. A person who testifies falsely against a friend is like a weapon used against him; placing one’s faith in a traitor during a time of need is like running on unsteady legs. A worn-out garment won’t protect a person from the cold and it’s equally useless to teach Torah to a student who has no intention of keeping it.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he’s thirsty, give him a drink. G-d will see this and will facilitate the making of peace, so that he should no longer be an enemy. Just as the north wind brings rain, so does a spiteful tongue cause anger. (Rashi says that it causes G-d to become angry!)
As in some earlier chapters, Solomon describes how it is better for G-d to withdraw His Presence from the Temple than to share it with the idols that would be established there. (See, for example, 15:6, 21:9, et al.) Good news from abroad revives the spirit like a splash of cold water. (Rashi uses the example of Jacob, whose spirit was revived when he learned that Joseph was still alive.) When a righteous person is too intimidated to correct an evil person, it’s as unpleasant as a muddy spring of water.
A difficult verse: “Eating too much honey is not good, but understanding their honor is honor” (v. 27). Huh? Rashi refers us back to the earlier part of the chapter, where we discussed certain mysteries of Torah, such as Creation and the “chariot” in Ezekiel. The scholars are extremely limited in how much they are allowed to expound upon these topics. One should not go too deeply into them; it is better to expound upon the words of the Sages.
The chapter ends that a person with no “censor switch” is like a city without a wall. He’ll just say whatever pops into his head, which leads to destruction.