Each person’s character is constantly being molded and adjusted by the example of the people with whom he comes in contact. Mishlei advises him to make a conscience effort to choose a tzadik as his role model. He should be attracted by the tzadik’s refined middos (character traits) and work to emulate them.
In contrast, he should guard against being influenced by the example set by the resha’im that he encounters. Even when their way of life seems to offer visible attractions such as economic success, he should realize that in the long run their example will lead him to a tragic end.
כו = יָתֵר מֵרֵעֵהוּ צַדִּיק וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תַּתְעֵם
(26) Better than the ways of his fellow are the ways of the tzadik,
but the way of the resha’im leads them astray.
This proverb advises choosing a tzadik as a role model because of his superior middos. The tzadik is contrasted with resha’im whose way of life can lead people astray, especially when the resha’im are blessed with economic success.
(26) Better than a man’s friend — יָתֵר מֵרֵעֵהוּ
as the choice for a role model
is a righteous man — צַדִּיק.
But emulating the way of resha’im — וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים
would lead people astray — תַּתְעֵם.
(1) One of the superior characteristics of the tzadik is that he is willing to forego his personal preferences to avoid conflict. He is also a model of patience and generosity. In contrast the resha’im look to win every encounter, especially when it comes to money matters. (רש”י, רלב”ג, רבינו יונה)
(2) People who go astray are misled by the economic success of resha’im and so they neglect the opportunity to emulate the superior qualities of the tzadik. (מצודות)
(3) A person should not rely on his first impressions. He should be careful not to be led astray and so after observing the noble and serene life of the tzadik he will come to emulate his ways. (מלבי”ם)
(4) The person who is attracted to the way of life of resha’im relies on his own superficial judgment which is swayed by their apparent success. (מלבי”ם)
(5) The tzadik emulates the good character of other tzadikim whereas the rasha emulates the bad character of other resha’im because of their economic successes. (חנוך לנער)
(6) A wise man is not satisfied with the current state of his character. He sees the superior qualities of one who is more righteous than he is and tries to emulate him. (שבט מיהודה)
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