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Key Concepts of Mishlei 06-05 (Applying Wisdom to Life)
In the first chapter (Segment 01-03), Mishlei explained to his student the importance of being receptive to the wisdom that he has been taught by his father and mother “My son, pay attention to the moral discipline of your father and don’t abandon the training of your mother.”
Mishlei now picks up this thread and carries it forward with a renewed emphasis on preserving that received wisdom and applying it to life.
PART 1. SPECIFICS. The student that Mishlei addressed in the first segment has now matured and his perspective has shifted. Whereas the father’s teachings originally focused on the discipline needed to train a child they now focus on the details of the mitzvos themselves as we see in the first verse of the current segment (6:20), “My son, keep your father’s instruction.” These halachic guidelines for the mitzvos must be remembered and applied throughout life.
(כ) נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ:
(20) My son, keep your father’s instruction, but don’t neglect your mother’s teaching.
At the same time the positive attitude of middos, such as humility and kindness which are a mother’s special legacy must never be neglected, “don’t neglect your mother’s teaching,” for without them, the mitzvos will lack meaning.
PART 2. INTERNALIZE. In the second verse (6:21), Mishlei reminds his student that the elements of wisdom need to be internalized (“bind them upon your heart”) and displayed to the world as well (“tie them around your throat”). Then, in the third verse (6:22), Mishlei shows how wisdom relates to every part of a person’s’ daily routine: moving about, resting and arising.
(כא) קָשְׁרֵם עַל לִבְּךָ תָמִיד עָנְדֵם עַל גַּרְגְּרֹתֶךָ: (כב) בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ:
(21) Bind them upon your heart always. Tie them around your throat. (22) When you are going, [their wisdom] will guide you; when you lie down, it will watch over you; and when you are awake it will interact with you.
PART 3. WAY OF LIFE. Finally, in the last verse of the segment, Mishlei invokes the memorable image of the oil lamp to visualize the mitzvos which apply focused illumination to each part of one’s day. In contrast the wisdom of the Torah is symbolized by the light of of the sun which pervades one’s life and is always present. Both the Torah and mitzvos originate as a gift to each of us.
Finally, Mishlei returns to the idea of mussar, the discipline of self-control, which a person needs to apply to himself as he continually works to improve his middos through his life. Without mussar he will be unable to find his way through life.
(כג) כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר וְדֶרֶךְ חַיִּים תּוֹכְחוֹת מוּסָר:
(23) For the mitzvah is like a lamp and the Torah is light. And the mussar of self-control is the way of life.
PART 1. SPECIFICS.
(כ) נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ
וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ:
My son, even if your father is no longer with you, keep alive all the details of your father’s instruction — –נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ and continue to observe them faithfully, even when they go against your instinctive inclination. But at the same time don’t neglect — –וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ even for a moment the positive attitudes of humility and kindness that were conveyed to you in your mother’s teaching — תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ .
PART 2. INTERNALIZE.
(כא) קָשְׁרֵם עַל לִבְּךָ תָמִיד
עָנְדֵם עַל גַּרְגְּרֹתֶךָ:
Bind them upon your heart to be there always — –קָשְׁרֵם עַל לִבְּךָ תָמִיד so that you will never forget them and so that even if you have to fight your instincts you will be able to exert self-control. Tie them around your throat — עָנְדֵם עַל –גַּרְגְּרֹתֶךָ so that they will always be visible to you and so that you will speak of them. By articulating them you will be continually think of them and they will guide your actions.
(כב) בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ
בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ
וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ:
The wisdom that you safeguard will be with you in every situation and in every circumstance. When you are going to a new place or activity, it will guide you — בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ ; when you lie down to rest, it will watch over you — –בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ so that you can have peace of mind; and when you awake, it will interact with with you — –וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ to stimulate your thinking.
PART 3. WAY OF LIFE.
(כג) כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר
וְדֶרֶךְ חַיִּים תּוֹכְחוֹת מוּסָר:
For the mitzvah that was taught by your father is like a lamp — כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה –וְתוֹרָה אוֹר that is specifically focused to illuminate each step of your life; and the Torah attitude that was taught to you by your mother is like the light of the sun that pervades your life and affects everything you do. And the mussar of self-control is the way of life — –וְדֶרֶךְ חַיִּים תּוֹכְחוֹת מוּסָר that enables you to implement the Torah and mitzvos. Only through energetic self-control of your middos will you be able to properly apply what you have been taught.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this segment are listed below.
כ – חנוך לנער, הגר”א, מלבי”ם
כא – המאירי, אלשיך, אבן יחייא, מלבי”ם
כב – המאירי, מצודות
כג – רש”י, המאירי, שבט מיהודה