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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 1]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 07-03 (A Tragedy)
In the previous segment we have seen how human character can begin to deteriorate under the influence of the yetzer hara (the evil inclination). The yetzer hara operates inside a person’s mind, even without an external stimulus. However, there are times when a person is subject to the influence of external circumstances or people that provoke him into sinful behavior. Unfortunately, if the person has a weak character he may succumb.
In this segment Mishlei wants to prepare the reader to face a challenge of this kind. When describing the lesson to be drawn we will refer to such a challenge as the “koach hara” (power of evil) that a person can come across at any time.
Following the approach used in previous chapters, Mishlei uses the metaphor of the “strange woman” to symbolize the koach hara. In this case she is a married woman who has chosen a career as prostitute. The foolish young man described in the previous segment wanders into her neighborhood and allows himself to come under her influence.
Exploring Mishlei
Mishlei now describes the interaction between foolish young man and “strange woman” in the form of a series of stages in the advance of the koach hara as it conquers the weak-minded individual. We will see how each stage is symbolic of the general method of the koach hara.
PART 1. THE APPROACH. The young man is loitering in front of her house and it has gotten dark. She has also been loitering, on the lookout for potential clients, and now she makes her approach without hiding what kind of woman she is. In fact, her laxity in dress and comportment promotes loose behavior.
(י) וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה לִקְרָאתוֹ שִׁית זוֹנָה וּנְצֻרַת לֵב: (יא) הֹמִיָּה הִיא וְסֹרָרֶת בְּבֵיתָהּ לֹא יִשְׁכְּנוּ רַגְלֶיהָ: (יב) פַּעַם בַּחוּץ פַּעַם בָּרְחֹבוֹת וְאֵצֶל כָּל פִּנָּה תֶאֱרֹב:
(10) Behold, a woman [advances] toward him. She presents herself as an immoral woman whose integrity is [in ruins, like a city] under siege. (11) [She speaks] provocatively and excitedly. [It is evident that] in her house her feet do not rest. (12) [She is constantly on the move] sometimes in the courtyard, sometimes in the streets. She stops to lurk at every corner.
PART 2. THE ADVANCE. So she takes the initiative and confronts him. She makes physical advances and speaks to him in a highly persuasive way so that his defenses are gradually undermined.
(יג) וְהֶחֱזִיקָה בּוֹ וְנָשְׁקָה לּוֹ הֵעֵזָה פָנֶיהָ וַתֹּאמַר לוֹ: (יד) זִבְחֵי שְׁלָמִים עָלָי הַיּוֹם שִׁלַּמְתִּי נְדָרָי: (טו) עַל כֵּן יָצָאתִי לִקְרָאתֶךָ לְשַׁחֵר פָּנֶיךָ וָאֶמְצָאֶךָּ: (טז) מַרְבַדִּים רָבַדְתִּי עַרְשִׂי חֲטֻבוֹת אֵטוּן מִצְרָיִם: (יז) נַפְתִּי מִשְׁכָּבִי מֹר אֲהָלִים וְקִנָּמוֹן:
(13) She grabs hold of him and kisses him. She brazenly says to him, (14) “I have sacrificial meat [to serve in my house] and today I have fulfilled my vow. (15) That is why I came out to meet you, to invite you. And I found you! (16) I have adorned my couch with spreads, cut from Egyptian linen. (17) [What’s more,] I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.”
PART 3. THE ATTACK. He is been taken in by her advances and accepts her invitation. She wastes little time moving on to the next stage, blatantly making her indecent proposal.
(יח) לְכָה נִרְוֶה דֹדִים עַד הַבֹּקֶר נִתְעַלְּסָה בָּאֳהָבִים: (יט) כִּי אֵין הָאִישׁ בְּבֵיתוֹ הָלַךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ מֵרָחוֹק: (כ) צְרוֹר הַכֶּסֶף לָקַח בְּיָדוֹ לְיוֹם הַכֵּסֶא יָבֹא בֵיתוֹ:
(18) “Come, let’s take our fill of lovemaking until the morning. Let’s enjoy ourselves with loving embraces, (19) for the man [my husband] is not at home. He has gone on a long journey. (20) [He won’t be back because] he has taken the money pouch with him. He will come home [only] at the appointed time.”
PART 4. SURRENDER. The transition from from independence of mind to surrender of will is sudden. Without even realizing it, the victim has fallen into the trap.
(כא) הִטַּתּוּ בְּרֹב לִקְחָהּ בְּחֵלֶק שְׂפָתֶיהָ תַּדִּיחֶנּוּ: (כב) הוֹלֵךְ אַחֲרֶיהָ פִּתְאֹם כְּשׁוֹר אֶל טֶבַח יָבוֹא וּכְעֶכֶס אֶל מוּסַר אֱוִיל: (כג) עַד יְפַלַּח חֵץ כְּבֵדוֹ כְּמַהֵר צִפּוֹר אֶל פָּח וְלֹא יָדַע כִּי בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא:
(21) She bends him to her will with the abundance of her persuasive talk. She entices him away with the glibness of her lips. (22) He suddenly follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter and as a man fettered in chains goes unthinkingly to the rebuke of a fool, (23) until the arrow [of the jealous husband] splits his liver. He is like a bird hurrying to the trap, unaware that its life will be lost.
PART 5. A LESSON LEARNED. Mishlei now summarizes what has been learned from the story. Everyone who hears it should take it heart because the danger is real and once the victim has begun to fall he will not be able to save himself.
(כד) וְעַתָּה בָנִים שִׁמְעוּ לִי וְהַקְשִׁיבוּ לְאִמְרֵי פִי: (כה) אַל יֵשְׂטְ אֶל דְּרָכֶיהָ לִבֶּךָ אַל תֵּתַע בִּנְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ: (כו) כִּי רַבִּים חֲלָלִים הִפִּילָה וַעֲצֻמִים כָּל הֲרֻגֶיהָ: (כז) דַּרְכֵי שְׁאוֹל בֵּיתָהּ יֹרְדוֹת אֶל חַדְרֵי מָוֶת:
(24) And now, children, listen to me and pay attention to the words of my mouth. (25) Don’t let your heart veer off into her ways. Don’t go astray in her paths. (26) For she has struck down many dead; the number of her victims is huge. (27) The roads to her house [lead] to the grave, descending to the chambers of death.
Additional Thoughts
It is important to remember that the koach hara can appear at any time and in a variety of disguises. Almost any sin that a person may be tempted to commit can be presented to him by a corresponding koach hara.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz points out that when Yaakov Avinu’s daughter Dinah succumbed to the persuasiveness of Shechem, it was because “he spoke to her heart” (Bereishis 34:3). This was an example of the koach hara, and just as the daughter of Yaakov Avinu failed in meeting its challenge, it could happen to anyone.
Learning Mishlei
(י) וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה לִקְרָאתוֹ
The young man’s foolish behavior has invited “trouble”. Yet he seems surprised when, lo and behold — וְהִנֵּה a woman advances toward him — אִשָּׁה לִקְרָאתוֹ ; she is responding to him, although he is shocked to realize that.
The woman symbolizes the “koach hara” — power of evil, which makes its move to break down a person’s defenses as soon it senses a lack of commitment. The individual should examine himself because he may have invited that force by his own behavior.
שִׁית זוֹנָה וּנְצֻרַת לֵב:
With the way she walks and dresses she presents herself as an immoral woman — שִׁית זוֹנָה , whose heart (her integrity) is in ruins, like a city under siege — וּנְצֻרַת לֵב . She appears disheveled, lacking decency. This woman exhibits behavior that is in total contradiction to the tznius (modesty and reserve) to which the young man is accustomed among the women of his home. This should prompt him to flee the scene; yet he is “hooked.” and he can’t tear himself away.
The “koach hara” promotes laxity in standards of dress and comportment. Slovenliness in apperance leads to weakening of moral standards.
(יא) הֹמִיָּה הִיא וְסֹרָרֶת 
בְּבֵיתָהּ לֹא יִשְׁכְּנוּ רַגְלֶיהָ:
She speaks provocatively and excitedly  הֹמִיָּה הִיא וְסֹרָרֶת to draw men to her in the dark. She is tempestuous and flighty so that in her house her feet do not rest — בְּבֵיתָהּ לֹא יִשְׁכְּנוּ רַגְלֶיהָ . By allowing himself to be drawn into her sphere of influence the young man has entered a world of constant change, distraction, and stimulation. This is at total variance to the environment he needs to immerse himself in for productive Torah learning.
The “koach hara” is constantly on the move, seeking for any weakness in a person’s commitment.
(יב) פַּעַם בַּחוּץ פַּעַם בָּרְחֹבוֹת 
וְאֵצֶל כָּל פִּנָּה תֶאֱרֹב:
She is contantly on the move, seeking foolish victims to fall into her net, sometimes in the courtyard — פַּעַם בַּחוּץ , sometimes in the streets — פַּעַם בָּרְחֹבוֹת She stops to lurk at every corner — וְאֵצֶל כָּל פִּנָּה תֶאֱרֹב until she finds a suitable victim.
The “koach hara” operates everywhere. It is not limited to a particular location, but tries out every venue until it finds an opportunity to attack its victim.
(יג) וְהֶחֱזִיקָה בּוֹ
She instinctively knows how entrap him, going quickly from one step of her unwritten agenda to another so that it is difficult for him to resist. She shamelessly grabs hold of him  וְהֶחֱזִיקָה בּוֹ with both hands so that he cannot evade her.
The “koach hara” attaches itself to the individual so that he cannot get back to what he should be doing.
וְנָשְׁקָה לּוֹ
She kisses him — וְנָשְׁקָה לּוֹ aggressively so that he becomes confused and unable to think clearly.
The “koach hara” tries to bond with a person unless he actively rejects it.
הֵעֵזָה פָנֶיהָ וַתֹּאמַר לוֹ:
And she brazenly says to him — הֵעֵזָה פָנֶיהָ וַתֹּאמַר לוֹ .
The “koach hara” speaks provocatively and disrespectfully, thereby weakening the individual’s moral standards.
(יד) זִבְחֵי שְׁלָמִים עָלָי 
הַיּוֹם שִׁלַּמְתִּי נְדָרָי:
“You are fortunate, because it just so happens that I have sacrificial meat  זִבְחֵי שְׁלָמִים עָלָי to serve in my house today. I had pledged to bring peace-offerings in the Bais HaMikdash, and today I have fulfilled my vow — הַיּוֹם שִׁלַּמְתִּי נְדָרָי .” [She is not embarrassed to lie about her devotion to mitzvos to make herself acceptable to him and to mislead him.]
The “koach hara” weakens a person’s resistance by suggesting that there is a framework of holiness around what it is proposing. A person resists going to do something clearly labeled as forbidden, but the good feelings that are associated with doing a mitzvah, especially food and drink, can be twisted into a positive attitude towards sinful behavior.
(טו) עַל כֵּן יָצָאתִי לִקְרָאתֶךָ 
לְשַׁחֵר פָּנֶיךָ וָאֶמְצָאֶךָּ:
“That is why I came out to meet you — עַל כֵּן יָצָאתִי לִקְרָאתֶךָ specifically, because we are kindred spirits, and so I came to invite you — לְשַׁחֵר פָּנֶיךָ to eat with me and participate in this great mitzvah. You can see that my motives are pure. And it was dictated by Heaven that I found you — וָאֶמְצָאֶךָּ immediately!” [She is clearly lying, but he plays along with her game because she has made him feel important and so it suits him.]
The “koach hara” flatters the individual to make him feel that he was specially chosen and it was Hashem’s will for him to engage in the sinful activity.
(טז) מַרְבַדִּים רָבַדְתִּי עַרְשִׂי 
חֲטֻבוֹת אֵטוּן מִצְרָיִם:
I have adorned my couch with spreads — מַרְבַדִּים רָבַדְתִּי עַרְשִׂי cut from the finest Egyptian linen — חֲטֻבוֹת אֵטוּן מִצְרָיִם . She offers him a comfortable place to relax, while not suggesting that the young man do any more than that.
The “koach hara” attracts the weak-willed person with luxurious trappings, which in themselves are not forbidden. But the luxury creates a relaxed and self-pampering frame of mind in which the person is not ready to resist further sugestions.
(יז) נַפְתִּי מִשְׁכָּבִי מֹר אֲהָלִים וְקִנָּמוֹן:
Finally, since he has succumbed to the idea of relaxing on her couch, she speaks of her own bed: “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh — נַפְתִּי מִשְׁכָּבִי מֹר , aloes — אֲהָלִים , and cinnamon — וְקִנָּמוֹן .
The “koach hara” uses the aromatic power of fragrances to evoke pleasurable feelings that break down a person’s will.
(יח) לְכָה נִרְוֶה דֹדִים עַד הַבֹּקֶר 
נִתְעַלְּסָה בָּאֳהָבִים:
Come, let’s take our fill of lovemaking — לְכָה נִרְוֶה דֹדִים all night long until the morning — עַד הַבֹּקֶר . Let’s enjoy ourselves with loving embraces — נִתְעַלְּסָה בָּאֳהָבִים for now there is nothing to stop us.”
The “koach hara” persuades a person that he can have unlimited pleasure with no inhibitions or feelings of guilt. And when the night with its worldly pleasure comes to an end he can do teshuvah and then there will be time return to his learning.
(יט) כִּי אֵין הָאִישׁ בְּבֵיתוֹ 
הָלַךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ מֵרָחוֹק:
For the man [my husband] is not at home — כִּי אֵין הָאִישׁ בְּבֵיתוֹ ; he has gone on a long journey — הָלַךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ מֵרָחוֹק .” She refers to him as “the man” because she disowns her duty to respect him as her husband and refuses to acknowledge that what she is proposing is a betrayal.
The “koach hara” persuades the client that his pleasure will not be interrupted and there is no risk of complications or consequences. Since “the man” is far away, the day of reckoning is far off and he can enjoy himself in the present. There will be plenty of time to teshuvah.
(כ) צְרוֹר הַכֶּסֶף לָקַח בְּיָדוֹ 
לְיוֹם הַכֵּסֶא יָבֹא בֵיתוֹ:
He has taken the money pouch with him — צְרוֹר הַכֶּסֶף לָקַח בְּיָדוֹ to buy goods for his business. Since he already has all the money he has no reason to return suddenly. He will come home at the appointed time — לְיוֹם הַכֵּסֶא יָבֹא בֵיתוֹ , and not before then.
The “koach hara” induces a person to abandon his emunah — faith that the Divine hashgachah (Providence) can come at any time to reward or punish human behavior. The assumption is that “business is business” and commercial needs will always take priority.
(כא) הִטַּתּוּ בְּרֹב לִקְחָהּ 
בְּחֵלֶק שְׂפָתֶיהָ תַּדִּיחֶנּוּ:
She bends him — הִטַּתּוּ to her will with the abundance of her persuasive talk — בְּרֹב לִקְחָהּ She entices him away from the straight path with the glibness of her lips — בְּחֵלֶק שְׂפָתֶיהָ תַּדִּיחֶנּוּ .
The “koach hara” uses language skills and sophisticated arguments to overwhelm the inexperienced victim.
(כב) הוֹלֵךְ אַחֲרֶיהָ פִּתְאֹם 
כְּשׁוֹר אֶל טֶבַח 
יָבוֹא וּכְעֶכֶס אֶל מוּסַר אֱוִיל:
Without stopping to think, he suddenly follows her  הוֹלֵךְ אַחֲרֶיהָ פִּתְאֹם , as an ox goes without being prodded to the slaughter — כְּשׁוֹר אֶל טֶבַח יָבוֹא , and as a man fettered in chains goes unthinkingly to the rebuke of a fool — וּכְעֶכֶס אֶל מוּסַר אֱוִיל .
The “koach hara” prevents the victim from stopping to think about what he is doing. He offers no resistance but does not even say he needs time to think it over.
(כג) עַד יְפַלַּח חֵץ כְּבֵדוֹ 
כְּמַהֵר צִפּוֹר אֶל פָּח 
וְלֹא יָדַע כִּי בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא:
He blithely remains ignorant of what is in store for him, until the arrow splits his liver — עַד יְפַלַּח חֵץ כְּבֵדוֹ . He is like a bird hurrying to the trap — כְּמַהֵר צִפּוֹר אֶל פָּח because of the few kernels of grain that it sees there, unaware that its life will be lost — וְלֹא יָדַע כִּי בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא .
The “innocent” victim does not realize that his own actions are bringing about his downfall. He starts haltingly, but gets carried away by the eagerness of desire and rushes to his own destruction. And when he is struck by the arrow of the irate husband who has suddenly returned, the victim hardly notices it.
(כד) וְעַתָּה בָנִים שִׁמְעוּ לִי 
וְהַקְשִׁיבוּ לְאִמְרֵי פִי:
And now, in light of this story, my children, while you are still under my influence, listen to me — וְעַתָּה בָנִים שִׁמְעוּ לִי and learn this lesson. Pay careful attention to the words of my mouth — וְהַקְשִׁיבוּ לְאִמְרֵי פִי so that my admonitions will continue to ring in your ears when are you are on your own.
:(כה) אַל יֵשְׂטְ אֶל דְּרָכֶיהָ לִבֶּךָ 
אַל תֵּתַע בִּנְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ:
Don’t let your heart veer off into her major ways of seduction and passion — אַל יֵשְׂטְ אֶל דְּרָכֶיהָ לִבֶּךָ , which you recognize as clearly destructive. Don’t even go astray in her minor paths — אַל תֵּתַע בִּנְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ , which you might think you can safely engage with her, such as conversation, or just looking at her.
(כו) כִּי רַבִּים חֲלָלִים הִפִּילָה 
וַעֲצֻמִים כָּל הֲרֻגֶיהָ:
For she has struck down many dead — כִּי רַבִּים חֲלָלִים הִפִּילָה the number of her victims is huge — וַעֲצֻמִים כָּל הֲרֻגֶיהָ . Don’t view the story I have related as an exception. Many people, even the most stalwart, have fallen under her spell and have suffered the consequences. Don’t think you are immune to her blandishments.
(כז) דַּרְכֵי שְׁאוֹל בֵּיתָהּ 
יֹרְדוֹת אֶל חַדְרֵי מָוֶת:
Even though they may seem innocuous, the roads to her house lead to the grave — דַּרְכֵי שְׁאוֹל בֵּיתָהּ , descending precipitously to the chambers of death — יֹרְדוֹת אֶל חַדְרֵי מָוֶת . The descent is so steep that you won’t be able to save yourself once you have begun to fall.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this segment are listed below.
י – רש”י, אבן יחייא, דבר ירושלים
יא – אבן עזרא, אלשיך, אבן יחייא, מצודות,דבר ירושלים
יב – אבן עזרא, אלשיך
יג – המאירי, חנוך לנער, הגר”א, מלבי”ם,דבר ירושלים
יד – רש”י, אבן עזרא, רלב”ג, אבן יחייא, הגר”א
טו – המאירי, אלשיך, אבן יחייא, הגר”א
טז – רש”י, אלשיך, הגר”א, מלבי”ם
יז – מלבי”ם
יח – המאירי, רלב”ג, הגר”א, תבונת משלי
יט – אבן עזרא, דבר ירושלים
כ – רש”י, חנוך לנער, הגר”א, תבונת משלי
כא – רש”י, חנוך לנער, דבר ירושלים
כב – אבן עזרא, מלבי”ם
כג – המאירי, אבן יחייא
כד – מצודות, דעת סופרים, אלשיך
כה – מלבי”ם
כו – מצודות, אלשיך, מלבי”ם, דעת סופרים
כז – אבן עזרא, אלשיך, דעת סופרים