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Mishlei 01-01 (Introduction)

Mishlei 01-01


[Pesukim 1:1 thru 1:6]

Key Concepts

In this first segment (01-01) of Mishlei Chapter 1, Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) introduces himself as the author of the book. He explains what it is meant to accomplish and what techniques he will use. The basic building block is the allegory (mashal), which is used to present a principle of moral and spiritual guidance so that the book may be thought of as a series of allegories (Mishlei).

However, as used here the term “mashal” is not limited to a narrative allegory, such as a parable. It also includes the use of metaphors and images to make abstract concepts come alive. In many cases, the principles of righteous moral behavior are stated bluntly without the embellishment of allegory and for this reason, the more inclusive term “Proverbs” is sometimes used in referring to this book.

Exploring Mishlei

THEME OF THE BOOK. Shlomo Hamelech introduces the subject matter of the book. He then describes its purpose which is to teach a person how to make good choices in life. This requires knowledge and the enlightened moral discipline necessary to apply that knowledge. The book also instructs the student in how to acquire an insight into three essential uses of personal judgment in social relationships: righteousness (tzedek), justice (mishpat), and fairness (meisharim).

א=מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן דָּוִד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

ב=לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר לְהָבִין אִמְרֵי בִינָה.

ג=לָקַחַת מוּסַר הַשְׂכֵּל צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט וּמֵישָׁרִים.

(1) The allegories of Shlomo son of David, King of Yisrael. (2) To know wisdom and moral discipline (mussar), to comprehend abstract ideas. (3) To acquire enlightened mussar, righteousness, justice, and fairness.

AUDIENCE. The author describes for whom the book of Mishlei was intended. Included are naive people and young people who have not had the benefit of learning from experience, as well as learned people who want to acquire analytical tools to add to their store of learning.

ד=לָתֵת לִפְתָאיִם עָרְמָה לְנַעַר דַּעַת וּמְזִמָּה.

ה=יִשְׁמַע חָכָם וְיוֹסֶף לֶקַח וְנָבוֹן תַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִקְנֶה.

ו=לְהָבִין מָשָׁל וּמְלִיצָה דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים וְחִידֹתָם.

(4) To provide cleverness to naive people; knowledge and thoughtfulness to the young. (5) Let the learned man listen and add to his store of learning; and let the deep thinker acquire analytical tools. (6) To understand allegory and interpretation, teachings of the wise and their enigmas.

ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS. As explained by Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch, the underlying root of the word “mashal” is the same as that of “ruler” (moshel). It is something that determines the role or function of other entities. The “mashal” points to the underlying message (nimshel) just as the “moshel” points to the group of people over which he rules.

The book relies heavily upon narrative allegories and metaphors. These are essential tools to support a person’s grasp of intellectual concepts by relating them to the instinctive knowledge that he has gained through experience. Thus, the intellect can acquire an understanding of the unknown by clothing it in images of the known.

In contrast to Tehillim, where each mizmor (chapter) has a unique theme, many of which are connected, Mishlei is organized as a series of relatively independent messages or “meshalim.” Therefore, this elucidation of Mishlei is presented here as a series of independent segments, each reflecting a specific theme or moral lesson. Each segment will be numbered by the chapter (perek) in which it appears and its location within the perek.

We are now in segment 01 of Chapter 1 of Mishlei (01-01). We will begin by learning each of the six pesukim (verses) that make up this segment.

Learning Mishlei


א=מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן דָּוִד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

(1) This book contains the instructive allegories מִשְׁלֵי
and other wise teachings of Shlomoשְׁלֹמֹה,
who was granted profound wisdom by Hashem.
Shlomo was the son of King David בֶן דָּוִד
who taught him the wisdom he had learned in a life of many challenges.
Like his father, Shlomo was King of Yisraelמֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל
and acquired additional wisdom through interaction with his people.

ב=לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר לְהָבִין אִמְרֵי בִינָה.

(2) The purpose of this book is for the student to clearly know לָדַעַת
the principles of wisdom (chochmah) — חָכְמָה.
Wisdom is the knowledge that guides a person in making good choices in life. Because such wisdom often runs counter to the person’s instinctive nature, it cannot be derived from human experience but must be acquired through Divinely inspired teachings.

The teachings of this book also guide the student
in moral discipline (mussar) — וּמוּסָר,

to apply the wisdom that he has learned. He needs this discipline
to overcome the inclination to make unwise choices in life. At its root the basis of moral discipline is the fear of Hashem.

To facilitate these objectives, the teachings of this book
instruct the student in how to analyze and
comprehend abstract ideasאִמְרֵי בִינָה לְהָבִין.

The tool for achieving this understanding is the human intellect, which has the capacity to absorb received truths and gain new insight into them by deriving truths from one another.

ג=לָקַחַת מוּסַר הַשְׂכֵּל צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט וּמֵישָׁרִים.

This book also instructs the student in how to acquire — לָקַחַת
 a higher form of moral disciplineּמוּסָר
 that is enlightenedהַשְׂכֵּל
 by reverence for the greatness of Hashem, as opposed to the fear of punishment.

In addition, this book instructs the student how to acquire an insight into three essential uses of personal judgment in social relationships and to know when to apply each one, depending on the circumstance:

1) righteousness — צֶדֶק,
 which is going beyond the letter of the law.

2) and justice — וּמִשְׁפָּט,
which is adhering to the exact requirement of the law,

3) and fairness — וּמֵישָׁרִים,
which is acting in an equitable and balanced manner even when the law is not specific.


ד=לָתֵת לִפְתָאיִם עָרְמָה לְנַעַר דַּעַת וּמְזִמָּה.

This book can provide לָתֵת
naïve people
with cleverness — עָרְמָה.

People who have not worked on developing their moral strength may easily be swayed by the yetzer hara (evil inclination). This book will teach them what to look for and how to resist it.

Furthermore, this book can provide
the inexperienced youth — לְנַעַר
with knowledge — דַּעַת
of the temptations that exist in the world
and the discretion — וּמְזִמָּה
to guard against them.

ה=יִשְׁמַע חָכָם וְיוֹסֶף לֶקַח וְנָבוֹן תַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִקְנֶה.

The learned man will be able to listen — יִשְׁמַע חָכָם
to the teachings of this book
and add to his store of learning — וְיוֹסֶף לֶקַח
by exploring and interpreting the ideas presented here.

And the deep thinker  — וְנָבוֹן
will acquire analytical toolsתַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִקְנֶה
by which he can discover insights that would otherwise have escaped him.

ו=לְהָבִין מָשָׁל וּמְלִיצָה דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים וְחִידֹתָם.

Working with this book the student will learn
to understand — לְהָבִין
 four basic forms in which the subject matter
of chochmah and mussar are presented,
in this book and elsewhere:

which includes parables, images, and metaphors as used throughout the Tanach, but especially in this book

of the allegory. The interpretion may be clearly implied by the context, by tradition, or through inspired analysis by Torah scholars. An allegory may have multiple levels of interpretation, each of which is valid.

Teachings of the wise — דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים,
chochmah and mussar presented in the Oral Torah as an extension and
enhancement of the Written Torah.

and their Enigmasוְחִידֹתָם,
additional teachings of the wise that are stated in enigmatic form, but which can be elucidated through the allegories like those in this book.

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