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Mishlei 12-26 (Role Models)
NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 0]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 12-26 (Role Models)
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 attributes) 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 superficial attractions such as economic success, he should realize that in the long run their example will lead him to a tragic end.
Exploring Mishlei
(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.
Learning Mishlei
(כו) יָתֵר מֵרֵעֵהוּ צַדִּיק 
וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תַּתְעֵם:
A person should choose a tzadik as his role model because better than the ways of his fellow are the ways of the tzadik  יָתֵר מֵרֵעֵהוּ צַדִּיק . But it is a mistake to emulate the successful way of the resha’im for it leads them astray  וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תַּתְעֵם .
Additional Insights
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
(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.
(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.
(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 emulate his ways.
(4) The person who is attracted to the way of life of resha’im relies on his own superficial judgment which is swayed by the apparent success of the resha’im.
(5) The tzadik emulates the good character of other tzadikim whereas the rasha emulates the bad character of other resha’im because he is impressed by their economic successes.
(6) A wise man is not satisfied with the current state of his character. He sees the superior qualities of somone who is more righteous than he is and tries to emulate them.
Sources
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רש”י, רלב”ג, רבינו יונה
(2) – מצודות
(3) – מלבי”ם
(4) – מלבי”ם
(5) – חנוך לנער
(6) – שבט מיהודה