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Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-09 (Strife)
Small differences of opinion between people can lead to serious quarrels, and these even can come to physical violence if the parties have a bad attitude. The human quality that promotes conflict is found in a close-minded and selfish stubborness that causes a person to insist on getting what he wants. Such a person is so completely immersed in getting his way that he disregards the interests of others and the laws of right and wrong.
The opposite attitude is that of wisdom. It requires humility and openness to the opinions and concerns of others. With such an attitude the parties will patiently explore their differences and come to a mutually agreeable solution without rancor or bitterness.
We are a nation that is governed by the Torah, guiding us in the laws of wisdom. If we observe these laws as we should, we can be assured of avoiding the tragedies that result from uncontrolled strife.
(י) רַק־בְּזָדוֹן יִתֵּן מַצָּה וְאֶת־נוֹעָצִים חָכְמָה:
(10) Totally selfish obstinacy results in strife, but from consultation there is wisdom.
In this proverb, the bad attitude that can promote strife is expressed by the word זָדוֹן . We have encountered this word in Segment 11-02, where it was translated as “malice” and contrasted with “modesty.” To understand the role of זָדוֹן in causing expanded disputes, it is necessary to emphasize the aspects of selfishness, lawlessness, and stubborn determination that are also implied by this word.
The opposite of such an attitude is that of humility which enables a person to open himself up to the concerns of others and to the rules of wisdom. Through patient consultation, differences can be resolved and the universal reign of wisdom can be enhanced.
(י) רַק בְּזָדוֹן יִתֵּן מַצָּה
וְאֶת נוֹעָצִים חָכְמָה:
When there is a difference of opinion a lawless attitude of total selfishness results in serious strife — רַק־בְּזָדוֹן יִתֵּן מַצָּה , which can even lead to blows. But patient consultation and discussion among the parties to the dispute results in peace and the rule of wisdom — וְאֶת־נוֹעָצִים חָכְמָה .
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) As suggested above there is no single English word that corresponds to זָדוֹן . However, from the point of view of promoting conflict, its most significant quality is a failure to observe the laws of wisdom. (That is why the proverb ends with the word חָכְמָה .)
(2) Nevertheless, from the aspect of “malice”, the desire to harm, as discussed in Segment 11-02, it is clear that malice towards another person is also a clear source of potential conflict.
(3) The word זָדוֹן may also be understood as referring to a person who consciously refuses to abide by the rules of wisdom out of an arrogant sense of personal superiority. Thus, he does not feel the need to be subservient to the teachings of the Torah and the Sages.
(4) If the participants to an ordinary dispute realize the nefarious influence that the זָדוֹן can have, they will take extra care to avoid it by calmly discussing their differences in an open and patient manner.
(5) There are times when a person needs to show firmness and anger without feeling any ill will in his heart. Thus, there may be a justification for the appearance of זָדוֹן . That is why Mishlei uses the word רַק (only), to say that conflicts will be aggravated if זָדוֹן is the “only” way that a person interacts with others.
(6) Disputes among people who are learning Torah can result if they allow the arrogance of זָדוֹן to affect their opinions. An arrogant person will insist his opinion is right because it is beneath him to show weakness by giving in and yielding to the opinion of another.
(7) If people are able to communicate with one another, they can resolve their differences according to the accepted laws of wisdom. If arrogance prevails and the laws are rejected, no amount of discussion will help to resolve the problem.
(8) The proverb also teaches that associating with people of malice will likely rub off and lead a person to engage in strife.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – מלבי”ם
(2) – אבן עזרא
(3) – מלבי”ם
(4) – רבינו יונה
(5) – המאירי
(6) – הגר”א, שבט מיהודה
(7) – מלבי”ם