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Mishlei 15-19 (Resoluteness)
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 2]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 15-19 (Resoluteness)
A resolute person sets goals for himself and focuses his energies on doing what it takes to achieve them. He is decisive and determined. When he encounters obstacles he is not discouraged, but works with perseverance to overcome them. He resists distractions that interfere with his concentration.
A lazy person is irresolute. He is easily distracted by obstacles and alternative objectives. He magnifies potential obstacles and looks for excuses to justify inaction or switching goals.
Exploring Mishlei
(יט) דֶּרֶךְ עָצֵל כִּמְשֻׂכַת חָדֶק וְאֹרַח יְשָׁרִים סְלֻלָה:
The highway of the lazy person seems barred with thorns, but the narrow path of the resolute is well-paved.
In this proverb the lazy person is compared with the resolute in terms of their reaction to obstacles. The lazy person is quick to find obstacles that will prevent him from proceeding in his project. Even if the road he is following is a well-traveled highway he is convinced there are thorns that bar his way and so he is excused from continuing.
In contrast those who are resolute are goal-oriented. Even if they are following a narrow path they will minimize any obstacles they encounter. As far as they are concerned it is a well paved road.
This is the fourth proverb dealing with the causes and consequences of laziness. The four proverbs may be summarized as follows:
Focused Thinking (06-02). Focused thinking is another name for resoluteness. It is the opposite of wishful thinking, which is what happens when a person is too lazy to expend the energy necessary to do what needs to be done. Instead, he lets matters take their course while hoping for the best.
Dedication and Neglect (10-05). This proverb explores the economic consequences of the neglectful attitude practiced by a lazy person. It is compared with the rewards of dedication to one’s duty.
Laziness (10-26). This proverb suggests that we view ourselves as a faithful employee who receives specific tasks to fulfill. The lazy worker fails to give the task ahead his full energies. In contrast the effective employee shows zerizus (alacrity). Visible signs of zerizus in action are promptness in starting any task and actively following through to make sure it is completed in a timely fashion.
Resoluteness (15-19). The lazy person sees obstacles even when there are none. In contrast the resolute person takes an optimistic attitude to the quality of the road and perseveres through any obstacles.
Learning Mishlei
(יט) דֶּרֶךְ עָצֵל כִּמְשֻׂכַת חָדֶק
וְאֹרַח יְשָׁרִים סְלֻלָה:
The highway of the lazy man  דֶּרֶךְ עָצֵל seems to be barred with thorns  כִּמְשֻׂכַת חָדֶק but even the narrow path  וְאֹרַח of the resolute is well-paved  יְשָׁרִים סְלֻלָה .
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) The quality of resoluteness is based on the word יָשָׁר , straight. The resolute person has is eye on the goal and heads straight for it in the shortest way he can. He resists getting distracted from that straight path.
(2) To one who hates hard work, life is like a narrow trail through a field of thorns. To the upright person ( יָשָׁר ) it is a series of challenges to be overcome.
(3) Whenever someone faces obstacles, he must honestly search his soul to determine whether they are real, or only an illusion created by his desire to avoid doing the job. If real, he must then search for alternative ways of reaching his goal.
(4) The lazy person is always on the lookout for the easiest possible way to go, but this is not necessarily the wisest choice and so the way that begins as a דֶּרֶךְ , may end up blocked by thorns. In contrast, the upright person ( יָשָׁר ) is not daunted by the difficult choice ( אֹרַח ), and so in the end he is gratified by a smooth surface ( סְלֻלָה ).
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רשר”ה
(2) – רלב”ג, מצודות, דעת סופרים
(3) – דעת סופרים
(4) – הגר”א