In their eagerness to gain wealth people may be tempted to take act unethically, such as by using false weights in commerce. Mishlei warns them that they will not achieve the outcome they are hoping for. On the contrary, they will end up impoverishing themselves because there is justice in the world. In contrast, those whose goal is just to meet basic needs through honest dealings, will be surprised to find themselves rewarded with riches.
רָאשׁ עֹשֶׂה כַף רְמִיָּה וְיַד חָרוּצִים תַּעֲשִׁיר
(4) Having a deceitful hand makes the man a pauper,
but having a diligent hand of honest dealings will enrich him.
In commerce, a vendor’s deceitful hand, which cheats the customer by falsifying weights, ultimately has the opposite effect, causing that vendor to become a pauper. But a vendor’s hard working hand, which practices honest dealings, will enrich him.
(4) Having a deceitful hand —– כַף רְמִיָּה
makes the man a pauper —– רָאשׁ עֹשֶׂה
But having a diligent hand —– ְיַד חָרוּצִים
will enrich him. —– תַּעֲשִׁיר
(1) The dishonest vendor seeks to get rich through deceitful dealings, but will end up poor. In contrast, the righteous person is seeking only to fill his needs but will be blessed with wealth. (מצודות, חנוך לנער, הגר”א)
(2) Alternate Interpretation. Even if he is a leader (ראשׁ) in his community, if a person uses devious methods to achieve his goals he will end up as pauper (רָשׁ). This will happen because Hashem conducts the world with justice. (רבינו יונה, אבן יחייא)
(3) Alternate Interpretation. An example of the dishonest methods used by the deceitful hand (כַף) is the use of a fraudulent weighing dish (כַף) in commerce. (המאירי)
(4) Alternate Interpretation. The deceitful hand in the proverb is actually only the palm of the hand (כַף). This is because the deceitful individual does not give his full commitment to the work for which he is being paid. In contrast the diligent individual engages all his energies in his full hand (יַד) of integrity. The hand includes both the palm and the fingers. (מלבי”ם)
(5) The example of commerce given in the proverb is an allegory to other deceitful modes of behavior, such as the student who limits his learning of Torah to an abbreviated summary without delving into the underlying sources. He hopes to achieve recognition by taking a shortcut to knowledge. However, he will soon forget what he has learned and his lack of grounding will leave him without any knowledge of Torah at all. (הגר”א)
(6) To conduct business honestly requires hard work and dedication because this is man’s destiny: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread” (Bereishis 3:19). (אבן יחייא)
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Mishlei 10-04 (Dishonesty) PDF version