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Mishlei 12-09 (Dignity and Toil)

NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 0]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 12-09 (Dignity and Toil)
It is natural to want to work in an occupation which allows you a sense of dignity and self-esteem. Such an environment can motivate you to live up to the noble image you of yourself as a child of Hashem. This is a good thing if you can avoid the negative side-effects of false pride and haughtiness.
However, circumstances do not always permit you to choose the perfect work environment. In such cases you will need to balance your prorities, recognizing that the benefits of self-esteem are only a means to an end and not your ultimate purpose. If the requirements of your job or occupation demand that you submit to work conditions that you consider somewhat degrading, you should learn to make the best of your stuation. Despite the fact that you must compromise your dignity, that choice is still better than the alternative, which is to go hungry or allow those who are dependent upon you to go hungry.
Some people find any kind of hard work degrading. They would like everything to be done for them by others. Mishlei does not encourage such an attitude. On the contrary hard work is ennobling and the reward is far greater than the financial compensation. This is especially true when it is the toil of immersing yourself in the challenges of learning Torah. The rewards of acquiring the wisdom and the delights of Torah knowledge are granted only to those who see themselves as “slaves” to the hard work of learning.
Exploring Mishlei
(ט) טוֹב נִקְלֶה וְעֶבֶד לוֹ מִמִּתְכַּבֵּד וַחֲסַר־לָחֶם:
(9) It is better to be undignified and do one’s own work than to maintain self-esteem at the cost of going hungry.
This proverb contrasts the limited choices a person may have to choose from: (1) undignified work or (2) going hungry.
Learning Mishlei
(ט) טוֹב נִקְלֶה וְעֶבֶד לוֹ 
מִמִּתְכַּבֵּד וַחֲסַר לָחֶם:
It is better for a person to be undignified  טוֹב נִקְלֶה and be his own servant  וְעֶבֶד לוֹ  than to maintain his self-esteem  מִמִּתְכַּבֵּד  but lack bread  וַחֲסַר־לָחֶם  because there is no one who is available to work for him.
Additional Insights
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
(1) If you are concerned with a loss of dignity, remember that there is no loss of dignity as great as being dependent on others.
(2) If you feel your dignity requires that you have an easy life and you fail to apply yourself to the learning of Torah you will suffer a lack of the bread of Torah.
(3) Although pride is repugnant to Hashem, dignity is acceptable and is considered desirable. The principle of modesty (avoiding provocative behavior) require that a person avoid a condition of degradation and wretchedness.
(4) In learning Torah it is preferable to endure the shame of exposing one’s ignorance by asking questions rather than pretend to understand.
Sources
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) - אלשיך
(2) - מלבי"ם
(3) - רבינו יונה
(4) - הגר"א