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Proverbs (Mishlei)

Proverbs, we are told by our Rabbis, was the second of three books written by King Solomon (Shlomo). King Solomon was the son of King David. In his youth, he wrote the eternally optimistic (and deeply symbolic) "Song of Songs". In mid life, he penned this book, filled with invaluable practical advise. In his declining years, perhaps a bit cynical about life, Solomon wrote "Ecclesiastes".

A superficial reading of Proverbs might leave someone scratching his head "What's the big deal? Just some guy telling me to stay away from suspicious women and not to worship idols... nothing I'm so interested in anyway!" It might become boring too, because of the repetition. It's chapter after chapter of the same stuff.

That is why it's not a good idea to read this book superficially. As a matter of fact, it is not a good idea to read any part of the Torah superficially. The books of the Tanach (Bible) are infinitely deep. They were written to be meaningful to many different types of people in many generations. Therefore, the meaning isn't always going to be as clear and one-dimensional as an article in the sports pages of the local newspaper. If this is expected, the book will recieve a lot more respect.

We should also remember who wrote this book. Solomon was the man G-d Himself called the "wisest of all men" (see I Kings). Would it be expected to have as easy a time reading a research paper by Albert Einstein as it would the comics? Knowing that G-d never said about Einstein that he was the "wisest of all men", logic tells us that it's worth putting some effort into Proverbs (not to mention the Talmud and all other works of wise men).

And now we come to the point of asking, "So, what's Proverbs really about?" We could say that Proverbs is a credit course in common sense. Much can be learned about the human mind by thinking about why two particular ideas were placed next to each other; why this verse would have been just like the last one... except for that small, almost insignificant difference and what the words actually mean. One can learn how to decide logically between two choices, how to make use of experience to avoid repeating mistakes and from what to stay away while chasing after a goal (especially the goal of Torah-observance).

This course in common sense also has wonderful teachers available to help us along. We are in good hands if we use commentaries like those of the Vilna Gaon and the Malbim (the latter has been translated to English, under the title "The Malbim on Mishlei" - Feldheim Publ.).


Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada). You may reach him with comments and questions at bclinton@torah.org.

You can now read some of Rabbi Clinton's essays on Torah life at http://www.ncf.ca/~es625/essays

You can also buy his collection of essays on the Book of Shmuel (Samuel) in printed form at www.lulu.com/marbitzmedia

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Boruch Clinton and Project Genesis, Inc.

 

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