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Mishlei 12-01 (Intervention and Daas)

Mishlei 12-01

Intervention and Daas

Key Concepts

In Segment 10-17 we have seen how Hashem intervenes in the smooth flow of events and injects customized lessons into a person’s life to remind him of his failings and to encourage him to elevate himself to the next stage of spiritual growth.

Mishlei uses two terms to address such interventions. The first is mussar (moral discipline) and the second is tochachah (rebuke or criticism). In general, mussar is related to the idea of the correction of past errors. It emphasizes a person’s middos (moral character) and involves 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.

In Segment 03-11 Mishlei introduced these two types of interventions, emphasizing that they are expressions of Hashem’s love because Hashem wants each person to develop to his full potential.

In Segment 10-17, Mishlei showed how mussar and tochachah can be understood 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 he resists the opportunity to grow spiritually by reacting negatively to the reproof of a parent or teacher, he is effectively going astray and forsaking the path to life.

Now Mishlei shows how these concepts are related to a person’s development of daas (knowledge). This concept was introduced in Segment 01-07. To have daas is to know how to go about making the right choices in life. When that knowledge is internalized so that it is as real to a person as something he sees with his own eyes it is called daas. A person’s access to daas is dependent upon his ability to respond to mussar and tochachah.

Exploring Mishlei

 א =  אֹהֵב מוּסָר אֹהֵב דָּעַת וְשֹׂנֵא תוֹכַחַת בָּעַר

(1) He who loves moral discipline loves knowledge
 for it is acquired with the aid of discipline,
but he who hates criticism
even though it is well-reasoned is a boor,
who will never achieve knowledge.

This proverb explores the relationship between a person’s ability to acquire daas and his attitude to mussar (moral discipline) and tochachah (criticism).  Mussar is the harsher of these two methods of intervention. A positive attitude towards
mussar ensures access to daas. In contrast, a negative attitude towards the milder
tochachah means that the person will be unresponsive to improvement and is like to go through life without a significant amount of daas. Such an ignorant person is called a boor.

Learning Mishlei

 א = אֹהֵב מוּסָר אֹהֵב דָּעַת וְשֹׂנֵא תוֹכַחַת בָּעַר

If a person loves moral discipline אֹהֵב מוּסָר
and is happy to be disciplined,
it is a sign that he loves knowledge אֹהֵב דָּעַת
because such a person is happy to endure
the discipline that brings him knowledge.
one who hates positive criticism is a boor וְשֹׂנֵא תוֹכַחַת בָּעַר
because his attitude prevents him from gaining knowledge.
A boor in this context is someone who has the qualities of a dumb animal that has no intellectual capacity and therefore cannot comprehend criticism.

Additional Insights

(1) If you are reluctant to accept mussar, Mishlei tells you to consider whether you love daas. If you do, you must love mussar. (אבן עזרא, שבט מיהודה)

(2) If you are favorably inclined towards mussar, you will be rewarded with daas because mussar will teach you things you did not know. (מצודות)

(3) If you are favorably inclined towards mussar, you will be eligible to acquire the knowledge of Torah, for one cannot expect to learn Torah if one is unable to endure some degree of pain and discomfort. (הגר”א)

(4) Mussar is primarily oriented to the development of middos (good character traits). Middos, in turn, are an essential condition to learning Torah. (חנוך לנער)

(5) If you appreciate positive criticism, you must be the kind of person who loves knowledge since well-reasoned criticism is based on an intellectual analysis. But even if you are receptive to the harsher rebuke of mussar, you probably love daas because mussar is based on the fear of Hashem and the awareness of His laws of reward and punishment, all of which are clarified through daas. (מלבי”ם)

(6) If you see a person who is under the influence of his appetites and desires, but is responsive to mussar or positive criticism, you can be sure he is a person of intelligence. His failings are not due to a lack of intelligence but a weak will. Hopefully, the reproof will help him overcome his weakness. (רבינו יונה)

(7) A person who seeks daas should be receptive to the lessons he can learn from everything that goes on around him. He should be on the lookpout for every opportunuity of self-criticism. (באר מחוקק)

(8) If you hate not only mussar, but well-reasoned criticism you will be a boor, for you will remain ignorant of your failings and there will be no one who can convince you otherwise. (מצודות)

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