Although the future is unknown to ordinary human beings, it is natural to think about what may happen and what our reaction will be to the possibility of various outcomes. In Mishlei 11-14 we saw the importance of planning ahead to achieve a desirable outcome to the extent that such an outcome can be influenced by our actions.
Mishlei now asks us to consider what outcome we want, how much do we really want it to happen, and what are the chances that events will conform to our hopes and expectations.
For this purpose Mishlei has identified two terms for thinking about favorable future events. There are some that we yearn for and others that we merely hope for. We are more likely to focus our efforts on facilitating events that we yearn for.
Our attitude to these possibilities depends on who we are. A righteous person (tzadik) trains himself to enhance desires that are good and suppress desires that are immoral or unethical. In this way he protects himself from the consequences of bad behavior. He orients his desires to the emotions associated with doing mitzvos and serving Hashem. In contrast, the concerns of an unethical person (rasha) are oriented to the degree of physical pleasure he anticipates and how important that is to him.
Hope may be viewed as a judgment of the likelihood a desired event will take place. The hopes of a tzadik are fueled by his bitachon (trust) that Hashem controls the world. The hopes of resha’im are fueled by the possibly unrealistic expectations of a favorable outcome, like winning the lottery. The result of such hopes is likely to be disappointment and anger.
תַּאֲוַת צַדִּיקִים אַךְ־טוֹב תִּקְוַת רְשָׁעִים עֶבְרָה
(23) The yearning of tzadikim is only for good;
the hope of resha’im ends up as disappointment.
This proverb looks at yearning from the point of view of tzadikim because these are people who have worked to control their desires and elevate them. They have consciously chosen to emphasize objectives that are inherently good and that will please their Creator.
The proverb looks at hope from the perspective of resha’im because these are people who will be dramatically affected by failed hopes. In contrast to the tzadikim who reap the benefits that come from controlling their desires, the resha’im are often doomed to frustration.
The yearning of tzadikim — תַּאֲוַת צַדִּיקִים
is only for good. — אַךְ־טוֹב
the hope of resha’im — תִּקְוַת רְשָׁעִים
is doomed to disappointment —עֶבְרָה
(1) The expression אַךְ־טוֹב (only good) teaches that tzadikim suppress all desires that fail to lead to an outcome that is clearly good. The focus of their desires is on being able to do mitzvos and serve Hashem. (אבן עזרא, רבינו יונה, מצודות, הגר”א)
(2) Even when tzadikim are engaged in material matters, such as eating and drinking, their intent is to serve Hashem and He counts it as such.
(המאירי, חנוך לנער, שבט מיהודה)
(3) Because tzadikim are drawn to what is good, Hashem sees to it that they achieve their destiny of spiritual good. (רלב”ג)
(4) The resha’im are drawn to evil. Thus, they hope for it and are eager for it to come about. In this way they earn the disappointment and anger of Hashem. (רבינו יונה, רלב”ג)
(5) Even when resha’im do something good, their overall framework of behavior is evil and so the hope of a good outcome is never fulfilled. (המאירי)
(6) The concept of desire is independent of fulfillment. However, because the desires of the tzadikim are worthy, they are granted fulfillment by Hashem. In contrast, the concept of hope is based on fulfillment. However, because the hopes of the resha’im are unworthy they will not be fulfilled and nothing will remain of their hopes but anger. (מלבי”ם)
NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click on the blue title below.
This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article.