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Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-08 (Light and Life)
We are granted the gift of life anew each day. As the darkness of night draws to a close and we are greeted by daylight, we know that we are alive and our life force has been restored by our Creator. That life force is our soul and it is symbolized by the light of the new day.
The soul of a righteous person (tzadik) rejoices each day, secure in the knowledge that, just as the light of the sun is totally reliable and will always be there, he can count on his own life continuing beyond the boundaries of this limited world into the infinite World to Come.
In contrast, the future of the wicked person (rasha) is uncertain. In contrast to the natural light of day, it is comparable to artificial light, such as the light from an oil lamp. That light can easily flicker out if the oil, which is the source of its energy, is used up or if the wick fails.
(ט) אוֹר־צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמָח וְנֵר רְשָׁעִים יִדְעָךְ:
(9) The light of tzadikim rejoices, but the lamp of resha’im flickers out .
In this proverb, the natural light of the sun is contrasted with the artificial light from an oil lamp. The soul of the tzadik, which is identified with natural light, rejoices in its anticipation of immortality. However, the light of resha’im is artificial. Their soul exists in sadness, knowing that it can come to an end at any time and it will be replaced by perpetual darkness.
(ט) אוֹר צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמָח
וְנֵר רְשָׁעִים יִדְעָךְ:
The light of the righteous, which is their soul or life force, rejoices — אוֹר־צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמָח – in anticipation of immortality, but the lamp of the wicked flickers out — וְנֵר רְשָׁעִים יִדְעָךְ — in anticipation of death.
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.
Wisdom in Words
(1) The word אוֹר refers to the essence of light, independently of the means used to generate it, whether it be natural or artificial. However, נֵר refers to a specific mechanism for generating light (the lamp). Because the light of the sun is so strong and pervasive during daytime we think of it in terms of its essence rather than its method of being generated.
(2) The soul of the tzadik is described by the term אוֹר , because it is immortal just as the essence of light is eternal and is not dependent on any artificial mechanism. Even in this limited world, the soul of the tzadik rejoices in being able to do mitzvos. And even when the body is experiencing pain, the soul is joyful in its continued existence and its continued devotion to Hashem.
(3) When Mishlei speaks of light as smiling, this should be understood as a metaphor because when the sun shines brightly, it creates a joyful mood in mankind. Another example is found in Tehillim 19:6 (Mizmor 19) where the sun is described as a warrior who rejoices in running his course (יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר) .
(4) By the same token the soul of the tzadik can be thought of as smiling since the soul represents the core of the individual’s personality in his devotion to Hashem. We find similar terminology in Yeshayahu 61:10, “My soul will exult with G-d.” – תָּגֵל נַפְשִׁי בֵּאלֹקַי .
(5) The word אוֹר is also associated with success and the natural happiness that success brings. We find this concept in Esther 8:16, “The Jews had light and gladness” – לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה .
(6) The phenomenon of אוֹר is essential to being able to see one’s way ahead. Therefore, אוֹר is the quality of one who guides others in the right way. Such a person is instinctively happy knowing that he is doing the will of Hashem and will be rewarded accordingly.
(7) Immortality is associated with the mood of joy and therefore the immortal soul of the tzadik is described as eternally joyful. The soul of the rasha, which faces the end of its existence is described as sorrowful.
(8) The word יִדְעָךְ , which refers to the extinguishing of a flame, is based on the concept of jumping, since a flickering flame appears to be jumping away from the wick.
(9) When a rasha appears to be experiencing joy, it is a joy that is dependent upon the body, and when the body comes to its end, the joy ceases as well.
(10) The World to Come is represented by the concept of daylight. In contrast This World is represented by the darkness of night. The existence of tzadikim is focused on the World to Come, whereas the existence of resha’im is focused in This World.
(11) In segment 06-05 we find that the metaphors of נֵר and אוֹר are used to compare the concepts of “mitzvah” and “Torah,” based on their ability to provide protection, כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר . The protection of a mitzvah is temporary like the flame of a lamp, which ultimately is extinguished. Dur ing the time a person is doing a mitzvah he is protected from sin. In contrast, light is eternal and the Torah provides eternal protection.The wisdom of Torah will always be available to a person to protect him from sin. (See the Gemara in Sotah 21a).
(12) The wicked extinguish the light of their own souls through their sins.
(13) A person who has acquired wealth honestly can use it for good and be joyful, whereas a person who has acquired it dishonestly will remain in fear. His pleasure in the wealth of this world is only temporary.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – מלבי”ם
(2) – רבינו יונה
(3) – אבן עזרא, רבינו יונה
(4) – אבן עזרא
(5) – המאירי
(6) – חנוך לנער
(7) – מלבי”ם
(8) – רש”י, מצודות
(9) – רבינו יונה
(01) – הגר”א
(11) – שבט מיהודה
(21) – הגר”א
(31) – רשר”ה