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Key Concepts of Mishlei 06-06 (Immorality)
In previous chapters we have seen how Mishlei has adopted the powerful metaphor of an immoral woman to illustrate the temptations and consequences of sin. Many of the factors affecting immoral behavior are also characteristic of the sins that arise out of yielding to false ideologies and corrupting cultures.
In the second chapter (segment 02-03), Mishlei spoke of the great strength of Torah wisdom in enabling a person to overcome the seductive power of an immoral woman. He then returned to this metaphor in the fifth chapter (segment 05-02) to illustrate the fraudulence of sin. The sweetness in the way she presents herself is a cover for the destruction that follows in her wake.
In the following segment (05-03) Mishlei used the same metaphor to illustrate the power of curiosity as the first stage in the development of temptation. The individual is admonished to suppress his curiosity and avoid the neighborhood where the “strange woman” plies her trade.
Further on in the same segment (Part 6) this metaphor is again employed to attack the sinner’s delusion that he can get away with anything because he is sure that no one is watching.
Now Mishlei uses the power of mussar to offer a more extended discussion of the seriousness of immorality, especially when a married woman is involved. The discussion has four parts.
PART 1. THE METHODS OF IMMORALITY. He begins by stating two fallacies by which the sinner’s judgment is compromised: the use of slick, misleading language and the subterfuge of admiring feminine beauty for its own sake.
(כד) לִשְׁמָרְךָ מֵאֵשֶׁת רָע מֵחֶלְקַת לָשׁוֹן נָכְרִיָּה: (כה) אַל תַּחְמֹד יָפְיָהּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ וְאַל תִּקָּחֲךָ בְּעַפְעַפֶּיהָ:
(24) To protect you from the woman of evil, from the slickness of an alien tongue. (25) Do not desire her beauty in your heart; do not let her captivate you with her fluttering eyelids.
PART 2. CONSEQUENCES. He then reminds the sinner about the potential consequences of yielding to temptation: the loss of material security in this world and the loss of a spiritual future in the next world.
(כו) כִּי בְעַד אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה עַד כִּכַּר לָחֶם וְאֵשֶׁת אִישׁ נֶפֶשׁ יְקָרָה תָצוּד:
(26) For on account of an immoral woman, [he may beg] for a loaf of bread. A married woman may ensnare a precious soul.
PART 3. SELF-DELUSION. Mishlei now uses two additional analogies to point out that the sinner is deluding himself if he thinks he can escape the consequences of his actions. If a person plays with fire, will his clothing not get burnt? If he walks on coals, will his feet not get scorched?
(כז) הֲיַחְתֶּה אִישׁ אֵשׁ בְּחֵיקוֹ וּבְגָדָיו לֹא תִשָּׂרַפְנָה: (כח) אִם יְהַלֵּךְ אִישׁ עַל הַגֶּחָלִים וְרַגְלָיו לֹא תִכָּוֶינָה: (כט) כֵּן הַבָּא אֶל אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ לֹא יִנָּקֶה כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהּ:
(27) Can a man draw fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? (28) Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? (29) So [it is that] one who is intimate with his neighbor’s wife, whoever who touches her will not be without guilt.
PART 4. COMPARING ADULTERY TO THEFT. Finally, Mishlei demonstrates the seriousness of adultery by comparing it with the crime of theft. On the surface these two sins are similar: they both involve taking something that belongs to another person. But then he shows that adultery is much worse for it cannot be excused by the poverty and hunger that motivates the thief. Also, when the thief is discovered he can make amends by means of financial restitution. In contrast, the emotional harm that the adulterer does to the victimized husband can never be made up. In fact, the adulterer is placing himself at great physical risk if the husband is driven by his rage to become violent.
(ל) לֹא יָבוּזוּ לַגַּנָּב כִּי יִגְנוֹב לְמַלֵּא נַפְשׁוֹ כִּי יִרְעָב: (לא) וְנִמְצָא יְשַׁלֵּם שִׁבְעָתָיִם אֶת כָּל הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ יִתֵּן: (לב) נֹאֵף אִשָּׁה חֲסַר לֵב מַשְׁחִית נַפְשׁוֹ הוּא יַעֲשֶׂנָּה: (לג) נֶגַע וְקָלוֹן יִמְצָא וְחֶרְפָּתוֹ לֹא תִמָּחֶה: (לד) כִּי קִנְאָה חֲמַת גָּבֶר וְלֹא יַחְמוֹל בְּיוֹם נָקָם: (לה) לֹא יִשָּׂא פְּנֵי כָל כֹּפֶר וְלֹא יֹאבֶה כִּי תַרְבֶּה שֹּׁחַד:
(30) They are not contemptuous of a thief because he may be stealing to fill his need, [fearing] that he will be hungry. (31) When he is found he will [readily] pay seven times; he will give all the wealth of his house. (32The adulterer is totally lacking in common sense. [Only] a self-destructive person would do something foolish like this. (33) He will find harm and public shame. His disgrace will not be erased. (34) For jealousy ignites a husband’s wrath; he will not have mercy on the day of revenge. (35) He will not be appeased by any ransom. He will not be placated, even when you greatly increase the offered bribe money.
PART 1. THE METHODS OF IMMORALITY.
(כד) לִשְׁמָרְךָ מֵאֵשֶׁת רָע
מֵחֶלְקַת לָשׁוֹן נָכְרִיָּה:
The discipline of mussar will protect you from the woman of evil — לִשְׁמָרְךָ מֵאֵשֶׁת רָע , who has adopted destructive patterns of behavior and entices you into them. It will restrain you from letting yourself be caught by the slickness of an alien tongue — מֵחֶלְקַת לָשׁוֹן נָכְרִיָּה , that misleads you through the use of unfamiliar ways of speaking.
(כה) אַל תַּחְמֹד יָפְיָהּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ
Even in the abstract, do not desire her beauty in your heart — אַל תַּחְמֹד יָפְיָהּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ . Don’t let yourself be drawn into an aesthetic perspective on the beauty of women, convincing yourself that it is not this particular woman that attracts you but that you admire natural beauty as an ideal and would wish your wife possessed such beauty. This attitude will only lead you into trouble.
וְאַל תִּקָּחֲךָ בְּעַפְעַפֶּיהָ:
Even if the immoral woman uses artificial means to simulate beauty, her glance will overwhelm you. So do not let her captivate you with her fluttering eyelids — וְאַל תִּקָּחֲךָ בְּעַפְעַפֶּיהָ .
PART 2. CONSEQUENCES.
(כו) כִּי בְעַד אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה
עַד כִּכַּר לָחֶם
Don’t think that you are too smart to fall into her trap and that you will always be in control of your life. For on account of his involvement with an immoral woman — כִּי בְעַד אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה , a man may end up sacrificing his happiness in This World. He may very well be driven to abject poverty, even to the point of having to beg for a loaf of bread — עַד כִּכַּר לָחֶם .
וְאֵשֶׁת אִישׁ נֶפֶשׁ יְקָרָה תָצוּד:
Furthermore, if the seductress is a married woman, the sin is much greater. She may ensnare his precious soul — וְאֵשֶׁת אִישׁ נֶפֶשׁ יְקָרָה תָצוּד . Thus, a life that began in purity ends up losing its place in the World to Come.
PART 3. SELF-DELUSION.
(כז) הֲיַחְתֶּה אִישׁ אֵשׁ בְּחֵיקוֹ
וּבְגָדָיו לֹא תִשָּׂרַפְנָה:
Be realistic! You are playing with fire! Can a man draw fire into his lap — הֲיַחְתֶּה –אִישׁ אֵשׁ בְּחֵיקוֹ to warm himself without his clothes being burned — וּבְגָדָיו לֹא תִשָּׂרַפְנָה ? So too, if you become involved with an immoral woman you will be driven to poverty and will lose everything.
(כח) אִם יְהַלֵּךְ אִישׁ עַל הַגֶּחָלִים
וְרַגְלָיו לֹא תִכָּוֶינָה:
Can a man walk on hot coals — –אִם יְהַלֵּךְ אִישׁ עַל הַגֶּחָלִים without his feet being scorched — וְרַגְלָיו לֹא תִכָּוֶינָה ? If she is a married woman the harm she does to you will extend beyond your posssessions and strike at the core of your existence. Even if coals are not visibly burning, they can still burn the flesh. So it is with the married woman. Don’t assume that if her state of marriage is concealed, it can’t be the cause of your downfall.
(כט) כֵּן הַבָּא אֶל אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ
לֹא יִנָּקֶה כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהּ:
So it is that one who is intimate with his neighbor’s wife — כֵּן הַבָּא אֶל אֵשֶׁת –רֵעֵהוּ will be severely punished. Even if he thinks he will be able to control himself by limiting his interaction with her to superficial contact, he is still making a mistake, as we have seen in the two examples above. One thing will lead to another. Thus, whoever who touches her will not be without guilt — לֹא יִנָּקֶה כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהּ .
PART 4. COMPARING ADULTERY TO THEFT.
(ל) לֹא יָבוּזוּ לַגַּנָּב
כִּי יִגְנוֹב לְמַלֵּא נַפְשׁוֹ כִּי יִרְעָב:
The disgrace of being an adulterer is much worse than that of an ordinary criminal, such as a thief, even though both are taking that which does not belong to them. People are not overly contemptuous of a thief — לֹא יָבוּזוּ לַגַּנָּב , because he may be stealing to fill his need for food — כִּי יִגְנוֹב לְמַלֵּא נַפְשׁוֹ . Even if he has money now, he is afraid that when his money runs out he will be hungry — כִּי יִרְעָב .
(לא) וְנִמְצָא יְשַׁלֵּם שִׁבְעָתָיִם
אֶת כָּל הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ יִתֵּן:
Furthermore, when he is found — וְנִמְצָא , the thief can settle the claim against him by paying the prescribed fine. To avoid public embarrassment he will readily pay seven times — –יְשַׁלֵּם שִׁבְעָתָיִם the amount of the theft, which the halachah requires in certain cases. If necessary, he will even give all the wealth of his house — –אֶת כָּל הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ יִתֵּן to save himself from disgrace. But even then, his life was never at risk.
(לב) נֹאֵף אִשָּׁה חֲסַר לֵב מַשְׁחִית
נַפְשׁוֹ הוּא יַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
In contrast, the adulterer is totally lacking in common sense — נֹאֵף אִשָּׁה חֲסַר –לֵב for he has no real need such as the thief who is hungry. Furthermore, in contrast to the thief, he earns the derision of society and he has no way of providing financial recompense for his crime. He even runs the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and bodily injury from a jealous husband. Only a self-destructive person would do something foolish like this — מַשְׁחִית נַפְשׁוֹ הוּא יַעֲשֶׂנָּה .
(לג) נֶגַע וְקָלוֹן יִמְצָא
וְחֶרְפָּתוֹ לֹא תִמָּחֶה:
Thus, he will find himself subject to physical harm and public shame — נֶגַע וְקָלוֹן יִמְצָא . If he fathers an illegitimate child, extending the dishonor into future generations, his disgrace will not be erased — וְחֶרְפָּתוֹ לֹא תִמָּחֶה . The emotional harm that he has perpetrated upon the woman’s husband cannot be eased with money.
(לד) כִּי קִנְאָה חֲמַת גָּבֶר
וְלֹא יַחְמוֹל בְּיוֹם נָקָם:
For jealousy ignites a husband’s wrath — כִּי קִנְאָה חֲמַת גָּבֶר . He is angry about the grave personal insult to his dignity and the harm that has been done to the good name of his family. Thus, he will not have mercy on the day he gets the opportunity to take his revenge — וְלֹא יַחְמוֹל בְּיוֹם נָקָם .
(לה) לֹא יִשָּׂא פְּנֵי כָל כֹּפֶר
וְלֹא יֹאבֶה כִּי תַרְבֶּה שֹּׁחַד:
Because of his emotional trauma the embittered husband will not be appeased by any ransom — לֹא יִשָּׂא פְּנֵי כָל כֹּפֶר . He will not be placated, even when you greatly increase the offered bribe money — וְלֹא יֹאבֶה כִּי תַרְבֶּה שֹּׁחַד . Because of his anger and hurt he may be unable to control his emotions. This is in contrast to the ways of Hashem, Who is always ready to forgive our sins when we appeal to Him.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this segment are listed below.
כד -אבן עזרא, המאירי
כה -אלשיך, חנוך לנער
כו – רש”י, המאירי, אלשיך
כז -רש”י, חנוך לנער
כח – שבט מיהודה
כט – המאירי, אלשיך
ל – אבן עזרא, המאירי, אלשיך
לא – המאירי, אלשיך
לב – רש”י, אבן עזרא, אבן יחייא
לג – אלשיך
לד – המאירי, מלבי”ם
לה – אלשיך