A Unique Online Torah Learning Resource

Mishlei 13-03 (Vigilance)

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 13-03 (Vigilance)
Human speech is a marvelous gift from Hashem. However, because it is so accessible, people don’t realize its power and are often careless in how they use it. They forget that that while speech can accomplish great things it can also bring about frightening destruction.
Mishlei teaches that every person must be constantly vigilant and watchful in how he uses his power. Every time he speaks he should consider the potential consequences of the words he utters. He must always remember that speech is an instrument of the mind and so the mind must be in conscious control at all times.
Previously (Segment 10-19) Mishlei taught that excessive talk is inherently a source of risk. Now he distinguishes between kinds of speech and stresses the importance if vigilance to properly manage each kind.
Exploring Mishlei
(ג) נֹצֵר פִּיו שֹׁמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ פֹּשֵׂק שְׂפָתָיו מְחִתָּה־לוֹ:
(3) He who guards his mouth protects his soul, but he who continually opens wide his lips, that is his calamity.
Through constant vigilance in guarding the instruments of speech, a person can avoid the tragedy of destructive speech and thereby protect his own soul and his life from calamity.
The proverb refers to two instruments of speech: the mouth and the lips. Here the lips symbolize the kind of thoughtless, superficial talk which seems to happen by itself. Lips that are opened wide in continuous talk are inherently dangerous. In contrast, the mouth symbolizes talk which expresses carefully considered thoughts. These can also be very dangerous if the person does not give them the full attention they deserve. Every person needs to pay attention to these two extremes of speech.
Vigilance is needed to guard the speech of the mouth and thoughtfully weigh its consequences. At the other extreme, speech of the lips must be strictly reined in so that it does not run away with itself.
Learning Mishlei
(ג) נֹצֵר פִּיו שֹׁמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ 
פֹּשֵׂק שְׂפָתָיו מְחִתָּה לוֹ:
He who guards his mouth with continuing vigilance from the temptation to speak lashon hara protects his soul — נֹצֵר פִּיו שֹׁמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ from all kinds of distress. But he who continually opens wide his lips and continually says whatever comes to mind, that is his calamity — פֹּשֵׂק שְׂפָתָיו מְחִתָּה־לוֹ .
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.
Wisdom in Words
(1) The word נֹצֵר (guards) implies continuing, intensive vigilance. This is as opposed to שֹׁמֵר (protects), which is a more general term.
(2) The word נַפְשׁוֹ (soul) could refer to the physical self (that is, life) or the spiritual soul. Both are at risk if the person does not guard his mouth.
(3) The word פֹּשֵׂק (opens) implies opening wide in a crude fashion. It also suggests being continually open.
(4) The word שְׂפָתָיו (lips) implies the instruments of external, superficial speech. In contrast the word פִּיו (mouth) refers to the instrument of thoughtful expression. Mishlei urges restraint and self-control, not only in superficial talk, but even in thoughful reflection.
(5) The word מְחִתָּה (calamity) is derived from a root meaning fear. The person whose lips are given free rein to say whatever their whims suggest are like an enemy to be feared.
Other Insights
(6) People think that if they have not spoken against another person, either directly or indirectly, that person should be grateful. But they don’t realize that they themselves will be harmed by any verbal barbs they have aimed at another person for they will be subject to judgment in the World to Come. The other person will be unaffected.
(7) A person who “guards his mouth” does not open it without the consent of his conscious mind.
(8). A person may have a good soul, and many mitzvos to his credit, if he does not control his speech he will be subject calamity.
(9). A person who accepts criticism quietly without answering back and without insulting the one who admonished him will be protecting his soul from punishment in the next world. But if he open his lips to embarrass the the one who admonished him, he will face the calamity of his own punishment as well as what would have been meted out to that other person.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) - רש"י, מלבי"ם
(2) - המאירי
(3) - רש"י, אבן עזרא
(4) - מלבי"ם
(5) - רבינו יונה
(6) - אלשיך
(7) - רבינו יונה
(8) - הגר"א
(9) - שבט מיהודה