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Key Concepts of MIshlei 10-21 (Guidance and Certainty)
Life is filled with uncertainties and challenges and so everyone is in need of guidance to a greater or lesser degree. A righteous person (tzaddik) who has worked for years to acquire and develop wisdom is uniquely qualified to offer inspirational guidance to others. A measure of his own spiritual elevation is the level of certainty he brings to his beliefs and teachings. This certainty is also essential to his ability to influence others. Thus, he is effective as a spiritual guide once his perspective rises above that of the foolish people who build their thinking around skepticism and uncertainty. Guidance based on such thinking will inevitably lead one’s listeners astray.
(כא) שִׂפְתֵי צַדִּיק יִרְעוּ רַבִּים וֶאֱוִילִים בַּחֲסַר לֵב יָמוּתוּ:
(21) The lips of the tzaddik feed the multitudes, but the fools will die because of a deficient heart.
The lips are the final point in the physical flow of speech to the listener. Thus, the speaker’s lips represent the knowledge that he conveys. The words uttered by his lips are the ones that the listener hears. In this proverb Mishlei tells us that if the speaker is a tzaddik and his lips communicate concepts of certainty and truth, those concepts will be effective spiritual food for the multitudes that come to hear him.
The tzaddik is contrasted with foolish people whose approach to wisdom is one of skepticism and uncertainty. Such people lack the essential grounding of wisdom that the tzaddik has worked so hard to achieve. That lack is characterized by their deficient heart. In what way is it deficient? As previously observed (Segment 10-13), a person’s heart is deficient if he has not trained his heart to work closely with his intelligence. This results in a tendency to skepticism and uncertainty, which lead others astray.
(כא) שִׂפְתֵי צַדִּיק יִרְעוּ רַבִּים
וֶאֱוִילִים בַּחֲסַר לֵב יָמוּתוּ:
The lips of the tzaddik — שִׂפְתֵי צַדִּיק , which expound his wisdom with certainty, feed the multitudes — יִרְעוּ רַבִּים – with positive inspiration. But skeptical fools — וֶאֱוִילִים – have been influenced by role models with a deficient heart — בַּחֲסַר לֵב . –Such a heart is not guided by the certainty of received wisdom and, instead of finding eternal life, they will die — יָמוּתוּ .
THE LIPS OF THE TZADDIK
(1) The tzaddik who teaches wisdom to the people is like a shepherd who feeds his flock. He teaches them the way that will benefit them in this life and the next.
(2) Not only does the wisdom of his lips bring life to the tzaddik, it brings life to those who follow him.
(3) The multitudes guided by the tzaddik include great scholars for the word rabim refers not only to numbers but to their greatness. They are eager to hear his wisdom.
(4) Whereas the tongue symbolizes internal speech that reflects the current thoughts of the speaker, the lips which symbolize speech that is external and reflects conclusions that the speaker has reached over a period of time. These make a positive impression because they are expressed with certainty and clarity.
THE HEART OF THE FOOL
(5) The skeptical fool has a deficient heart and the people who follow his misguided teachings will be led astray.
(6) The skeptical fool fail to help others and bring destruction to themselves.
(7) The wrong which is done in the world is often due to lack of understanding. This means morally instructive word can make a big difference and raise foolish people from their confusion.
The primary sources used for the insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – אבן עזרא, מצודות
(3) – הגר”א
(5) – אבן עזרא, המאירי,
(6) – אבן יחייא, חנוך לנער
(7) – רשר”ה