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Mishlei 10-17 (Intervention)
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 0]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 10-17 (Intervention)
Over a period of time it is natural for a person to fall into a comfortable pattern of behavior in which he resists change. However, in doing so he is neglecting his mission in life, which is to perfect his moral character and acquire wisdom.
Accordingly, from time to time Hashem intervenes in the smooth flow of events and injects customized lessons to remind a person of his failings and to encourage him to elevate himself to the next stage of spiritual growth.
Such a lesson may be in the form of an experience of pain or discomfort. It may also involve witnessing an unusual event or being exposed to an enlightening teaching.
Mishlei uses two terms to address such interventions. The first is mussar (moral discipline) and the second is tochachah (reproof or rebuke). In general, mussar is related to the idea of the correction past errors. It emphasizes a person’s middos (moral character) and suggests the deterrent power of punishment either through actual suffering or through self-analysis. In contrast, tochachah refers to a gentle admonition or reproof, resulting in a motivation to goodness and spiritual growth.
Exploring Mishlei
(יז) אֹרַח לְחַיִּים שׁוֹמֵר מוּסָר וְעוֹזֵב תּוֹכַחַת מַתְעֶה:
(17) He who holds on to moral discipline is on the path to life but he who forsakes reproof goes astray.
The interventions of mussar (moral discipline) and tochachah (reproof) are contrasted with respect to their effect on a person’s trajectory through life. If a person holds on to mussar and overcomes his instinctive resistance to being corrected, he puts himself solidly on the path to life. If a person resists the opportunity to grow spiritually by reacting positively to the reproof of a parent or teacher, he is effectively going astray and forsaking the path to life.
What type of person resists mussar? We have seen this in verse 1:7 (Mishlei Segment 01-02) which states that skeptics scorn both wisdom and mussar. However, Mishlei is directing his attention to the basically good person when he tells him lovingly in verse 3:11 (Segment 03-03) to respond positively to both mussar and tochachah. Further on, in verse 6:23 (Segment 06-05) Mishlei relates these concepts to the persons’s way of life. Only through energetic self-control of middos will a person be able to properly implement Torah and mitzvos.
Learning Mishlei
(יז) אֹרַח לְחַיִּים שׁוֹמֵר מוּסָר 
וְעוֹזֵב תּוֹכַחַת מַתְעֶה:
The person that holds on to the lessons of mussar with a constructive attitude will be rewarded in two ways. He will not only be kept from the path of self-destruction but will be placed on the path to life — אֹרַח לְחַיִּים שׁוֹמֵר מוּסָר . But the person who rejects mussar and even forsakes gentle reproof will lose the opportunity of entering on the path to life and will even go astray — וְעוֹזֵב תּוֹכַחַת מַתְעֶה:  on the path to destruction.
Additional Insights
(1) The lessons of mussar are directed to the improvement of middos. The person who who takes these lessons to heart walks on the road to eternal life. He is enabled to achieve fulfillment in his mitzvos and he becomes beloved by other human beings.
(2) Priority should be given to perfecting one’s middos. (See Mishlei verse 1:7, Segment 01:02) This lesson puts one on the right road to learning Torah. But if he learns Torah first, without the foundation of good middos, he will go astray.
(3) The term mussar refers to self-discipline and restraint from violating strict boundaries, having in mind the fear of punishment.
(4) The term mussar can also refer to physical discomfort which a persaon can impose upon himself through self-discipline or that others can impose upon him. In either case, such suffering purifies a person and elevates him.
(5) The person who turns away from the lessons of mussar leads his teachers astray because they get discouraged and as a result they neglect their duty of giving him guidance.
(6) The person who rejects mussar will surely go astray because he hates being told what to do and so he ends up following the whims of his heart.
(7) To avoid going astray a person should readily accept reproof based on the enightenment of reason. In this mode of guidance, a person’s mentor shows him the benefits of choosing the right way in life.
The primary sources used for the insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – המאירי, רלב”ג
(2) – חנוך לנער
(3) – מלבי”ם
(4) – הגר”א
(5) – המאירי
(6) – הגר”א
(7) – מלבי”ם