In Segments 10-17 and 12-01 we have seen how Hashem intervenes in the smooth flow of events and introduces customized lessons into a person’s life. These serve to remind him of his failings and encourage him to elevate himself to the next stage of spiritual growth.
People have a natural tendency to resist change and so they indulge in a defense mechanism to invalidate the sources of guidance. Through skepticism and disrespect of traditional authority they try to free themselve of the need for compliance with the lessons that Hashem provides.
As previously noted, Mishlei uses two terms to address such lessons. The first is mussar (moral discipline) and the second is tochachah (rebuke or criticism). In general, mussar is related to the idea of the correction of past errors. It emphasizes a person’s middos (moral character) and involves the deterrent power of punishment either through actual suffering or through painful self-analysis. In contrast, tochachah refers to a gentle admonition or reproof, resulting in a motivation to
goodness and spiritual growth.
The traditional source of authority in a family is the father and thus he is especially identified with mussar. A foolish son rejects the guidance of mussar by showing disrespect to his father and to any other authority figure in his life.
ה = אֱוִיל יִנְאַץ מוּסַר אָבִיו וְשֹׁמֵר תּוֹכַחַת יַעְרִם
(5) The fool disrespects his father’s mussar,
but he who pays attention to criticism will become wise.
This proverb calls attention to the foolish attitude of the skeptic who rejects and scorns the mussar of his father. This is compared with the constructive attitude of a right-thinking person at the other extreme. In contrast to the skeptic, the positive thinker appreciates criticism and pays careful attention to it, so that there is no need for the harsher approach of moral discipline.
As noted in segment 15-04 Mishlei encourages a parent or teacher to use his power of speech as an instrument of healing. Thus, when the “healing tongue” provides gentle guidance, a more permanent effect is achieved in the teaching of wisdom.
(5) Because of his negative
attitude to received wisdom
the fool disrespects — אֱוִיל יִנְאַץ
his father’s mussar — מוּסַר אָבִיו
and as a result he will
never acquire knowledge.
But he who pays attention — וְשֹׁמֵר
to gentle criticism — תּוֹכַחַת
will become wise — יַעְרִם
without the need for
(1) Mussar achieves its disciplinary effect by reminding the listener of the
negative consequencences of his moral failings. There is a danger that the listener will react with skepticism to invalidate the authenticity of the message. In contrast, gentle criticism can achieve its effect by showing the value of knowledge. (מלבי”ם)
(2) the person who pays attention to the constructive criticism can learn a lot from it. Through his failings he becomes stronger and the lessons he has learned will last for years. By keeping this wisdom in his heart, he can draw upon it whenever it is needed. (רבינו יונה)
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