This Agurs WellBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
We said previously that this book is divided into several thematic sections, each introduced by its own superscription. The last two chapters are each their own section. This chapter begins, “The words of Agur the son of Yakeh…” Rashi cites the Midrash that Solomon is called Agur, meaning the one who gathered this information, “bin” meaning not son here but that Solomon understood this wisdom, and Yakeh because he then “spit it out” for others. He said these words prophetically on the subject of his overconfidence that G-d was with him and would protect him from error. Because of this overconfidence, Solomon erred in gathering too many wives, too many horses and too much wealth, counter to the Torah’s instructions (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). Despite his great wisdom, Solomon considers himself foolish for allowing himself to stumble in this matter.
Has anyone ascended to Heaven and returned since Moses got the Torah? Has anyone gathered the wind or wrapped up the waters like Moses did (before the plague of boils and at the Red Sea, respectively)? Has anyone caused the world to endure like Moses did when he built the Mishkan (Tabernacle)? If so, speak up and tell us his name and who his descendants are! But, of course, there is no such person, so Solomon was foolish to deviate from the Torah that Moshe delivered from G-d.
Every word in the Torah is refined; there’s not so much as a superfluous letter. G-d protects those who follow His word. Don’t add to the Torah or you’ll be proven a liar (like Chava – Eve – who said that G-d said not even to touch the Tree, when in fact He commanded no such thing – see Genesis 3:3).
Solomon addresses G-d and requests two things: (1) He asks that falsehoods and lies be distanced from him and (2) that he experience neither poverty nor wealth. The temptation of the wealthy is to become complacent and to deny G-d, while the poor are tempted to steal; Solomon wishes to experience neither test.
Solomon says that we should not complain to G-d about others, because He uses that opportunity to examine our deeds and punish us as necessary. This is true even in a particularly sinful generation. (Solomon describes such a generation in some detail.) Heaven and Hell are like leeches, both eager for more residents. (That is, neither one is so crowded that more people can’t get in.) Certain things are insatiable: the grave is never full, the sexual urge is never satisfied, the Earth loves to receive water, and fire consumes as much as it can.
A person who mocks his parents’ experience and teachings by winking his eye as if to say, “Yeah, right,” doesn’t deserve that eye; it would be better off feeding birds of prey.
Solomon admits that there are some things he’ll never know about, because they leave no trail: the paths taken by eagles in the sky, snakes on the rocks, ships in the sea, and the secret, illicit affair. The woman “eats, then wipes her mouth” (a euphemism) and denies that anything has happened.
Next, Solomon enumerates things that make the people of the world tremble: when a slave becomes ruler and uses his new authority to seek retribution, when a base person’s desires are satisfied and he becomes an example for others, when a hated woman marries an important man and influences him, and when a servant girl becomes the lady of the house. (All of these people will misuse their new authority.)
Solomon also names some of G-d’s most humble creatures, which are also among the wisest. Ants store food for the winter. Hyraxes have no tools, but they persevere in burrowing through rock. (The hyrax is often called the “rock badger.”) Locusts have no king, but they march united. Spiders spin their webs and live on what they catch.
The lion is the mightiest of all the beasts, so it is unafraid. Also outstanding among their peers are swift dogs, agile goats and mighty kings. (Rashi says that these groups of four items each represent the various conquering nations.)
If you have been shamed, you will eventually be raised back up. If you get the idea to speak evil and provoke arguments, put your hand on your mouth and shut yourself up. Churn milk and you’ll get butter. Pop someone on the nose and you’ll get blood. Similarly, applying pressure to anger leads to trouble.
Some say that Agur is not another name for Solomon. Rather, he was a contemporary, whose work Solomon incorporated into the Book, much the same way that David included others’ work in Psalms. (See Ibn Ezra on verse 1.) Assuming that Agur was not Solomon changes our understanding of the context of some of the verses, as they would now not refer autobiographically to incidents in Solomon’s life. (We are not, however, going to go through the whole chapter again based on this view.)