As we have seen in Segment 01-03 a person should be receptive to the positive influences that he encounters in life, beginning with his father and mother. Now Mishlei examines two kinds of influence that correspond to the kinds of people who offer guidance throughout his lifetime. Thus, a person may be positively influenced by tzadikim and chachamim (righteous men and wise men). In this context the term tzadik refers to one who offers guidance indirectly through the example that he sets and the term chacham refers to one who offers guidance through the teaching of the wisdom of Torah. In practice we may expect to find both qualities of guidance to varying degrees within the same individual.
פְּרִי־צַדִּיק עֵץ חַיִּים וְלֹקֵחַ נְפָשׁוֹת חָכָם
(30) The fruit of a tzadik is the fruit of a tree of life,
but a chacham acquires souls by sharing his wisdom.
In this proverb Mishlei uses the symbol of the tree of life to represent the tzadik’s quality of being a source of life to those in his vicinity. Just as the tree produces life-giving fruit so it is that the tzadik, through his actions and demeanor, inspire others to be elevated spiritually. His presence in a community also draws Hashem’s good will so that everyone benefits from his zechus (merit).
In contrast to the relatively passive role of the tzadik, the chacham takes a direct and active role, teaching the wisdom of the Torah and in calling people’s attention to the ways in which they might improve. Of course, as previously noted, the qualities of the tzadik and the chacham are often found in the same person.
(31) The fruit of a tzadik, —פְּרִי־צַדִּיק
is that of a tree of life — עֵץ חַיִּים
that inspires by example
but a chacham acquires souls — וְלֹקֵחַ נְפָשׁוֹת חָכָם ־
by sharing his wisdom directly.
(1) The fruits of the deeds of the tzadik are eternal life. (רש”י, מלבי”ם)
(2) The chacham is said to “acquire” souls by teaching them and inspiring them. This corresponds to the behavior of Avraham and Sarah, as it says, “and the souls they made (acquired) in Charan” (Bereishis 12:5). (רש”י)
(3) The fruit of the tzadik is also a reference to his children, for although his influence is generally indirect, in the case of his own children he actively teaches them and disciplines them because he has access to them at a young age. However, the chacham has the special ability to actively persuade and inspire people of any age. (רבינו יונה)
(4) Furthermore, children are considered the fruit of the tree of life because a person who leaves children after he is gone continues to live through them. (הגר”א)
(5) The tzadik himself is a tree of life, “which yields its fruit in due season”, as in Mizmor 001 (verse 1:3). (המאירי)
(6) The tzadik is a tree of life because out of his every deed grows something beneficial and life-giving to his surroundings. This is an indirect process, but the chacham is a wellspring of life. His words penetrate into the souls of his listeners, gripping them and making them wiser and more noble. (רשר”ה)
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