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Key Concepts of Mishlei 13-10 (Wealth and Wisdom)
Mishlei teaches us to engage in constructive habits and lifestyles. We are reminded that through methodical and steady work habits a person can build up his material wealth. However, this is not to suggest that acquiring such wealth should be a person’s goal in life. On the contrary, although wealth enables a person to perform mitzvos, Mishlei has emphasized the overriding importance of a life oriented around wisdom, that is to say, the wisdom of the Torah.
As it happens, wisdom is a perfect metaphor for wealth. Thus, many of the proverbs, while appearing to offer guidance on how to get rich, are also teaching us the practices and attitudes we should be following to acquire wisdom and retain it.
Good work habits on a steady and consistent basis are known to assure a gradual buildup of financial assets. The same is true of learning Torah. The important thing is perseverence and a willingness to focus one’s efforts on an ongoing basis. A person who fritters away his time on trivial distractions will end up losing whatever wealth he may happen to possess. The same is true of his Torah wisdom. He wil lose it if he fails to constantly review and work with it in his mind.
(יא) הוֹן מֵהֶבֶל יִמְעָט וְקֹבֵץ עַל יָד יַרְבֶּה:
(11) Wealth is diminished through wasteful trivialities, but it is increased by steady and careful gathering.
This proverb contrasts the challenge of preserving wealth with that of building wealth. A person’s wealth (and his Torah knowledge) can be dissipated if he allows himself to waste his time on trivialities. Correspondingly, a person who seeks to build his wealth (or Torah knowledge) must apply himself in a steady manner, working in small increments.
(יא) הוֹן מֵהֶבֶל יִמְעָט
וְקֹבֵץ עַל יָד יַרְבֶּה:
Wealth is diminished through spending time and effort on wasteful trivialities — הוֹן מֵהֶבֶל יִמְעָט . But wealth is increased by steady and careful gathering — וְקֹבֵץ עַל־יָד יַרְבֶּה .
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 הֶבֶל is a variant of חֶבֶל , bundle. This teaches that if a person accumulates bundle after bundle of Torah, his learning dwindles. Thus, if he studies a great deal at a time without reviewing the material, he will forget it.
(2) The word הֶבֶל can be translated as vanity or futility, referring to practices such as theft and deception which have no constructive value. When such practices are used in acquiring wealth, the wealth will not endure, but will gradually dwindle away.
(3) The phrase עַל־יָד (by hand) implies that Torah should be studied in small segments, such as individual pesukim or paragraphs. These will gradually accumulate over time to build a large body of knowledge.
(4) However, the learning should not be made too easy. Some degree of effort should be called for. If it comes too easy it will also dissipate. The phrase עַל־יָד implies that the person’s “hand” must be applied energetically,
(5) Wealth will deteriorate and be diminished without constant attention and effort. This apples to wisdom as well. Torah should be studied in small segments, which should be reviewed.
(6) Torah should be studied in an orderly fashion, beginning with basic knowledge and expanding it over time. Complex and highly challenging material should be put off until later so that the student does not become discouraged.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רש”י, גמרא ערובין נ”ד:
(2) – אבן עזרא, מצודות
(3) – חנוך לנער
(4) – הגר”א
(5) – מלבי”ם