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Key Concepts of Mishlei 15-21 (Self-Control)
A discerning person ( אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה ) thinks things through and he therefore recognizes the dangers of foolish behavior ( אִוֶּלֶת ). He knows that it is essential to maintain self-control of his middos (behavioral tendencies such as pride and greed) if he is going to stay out of trouble. Self-control enables him to follow the straight path ( יְיַשֶּׁר־לָכֶת ) of integrity and fair-mindedness.
In contrast the foolish person who has failed to develop self-control is called a man of deficient heart ( חֲסַר־לֵב ). Such a man clearly lacks discernment as well as self-control.
One way of comparing these two individuals is by seeing what gives them pleasure. The foolish person finds joy in foolish behavior. Since he doesn’t think things through he is not worried about the consequences. He enjoys the foolishness while it is happening even if it is unethical or immoral. In contrast the discerning person is concerned at all times about maintaining his standards of integrity. He find joy in the knowledge that he has himself under control so that he will always be doing the right thing in every situation.
אִוֶּלֶת שִׂמְחָה לַחֲסַר־לֵב וְאִישׁ תְּבוּנָה יְיַשֶּׁר־לָכֶת:
Foolish behavior brings joy to the man of deficient heart [for he lacks self-control and is not concerned about the consequences]. But a discerning man [avoids foolish behavior. Instead he] finds joy in walking the path of straightness [for he has mastered self-control].
This proverb compares two types of individuals in terms of what gives them joy in life. The kind of person who enjoys foolish behavior is one who lacks self-control and is not worried about the consequences of misbehavior. The one who thinks things through has set self-control as a primary objective. He he finds joy in the knowledge that exercising his self-control will protect him from doing the wrong thing.
The consequences of a deficient heart are explored in segments 9-03 (Invitation to Ignorance) and 10-13 (Insight). Such a person finds it difficult to accept guidance and may need to suffer pain before he recognizes his problem.
The importance of discernment is described in segments 10-13 (Insight), 15-14 (Discernment), and 15-19 (Resoluteness).
Fair-mindedness (yashrus or uprightness) is treated in segments 11-03 (Fairness and Integrity), 11-06 (Fair-Mindedness), and 15-08 (Hypocrisy). It refers to the quality of decency that motivates a person to act in an honest and equitable manner. A person may be fair-minded from birth or as a result of the way he was brought up. A person with this quality is able to instinctively recognize and appreciate fair treatment, even in ambiguous situations.
(כא) אִוֶּלֶת שִׂמְחָה לַחֲסַר־לֵב
וְאִישׁ תְּבוּנָה יְיַשֶּׁר־לָכֶת:
Foolishness is joy — אִוֶּלֶת שִׂמְחָה to the man of deficient heart — לַחֲסַר־לֵב , for he lacks self-restraint. But the joy of a discerning man — וְאִישׁ תְּבוּנָה , who thinks things through, is in walking a straight path — יְיַשֶּׁר־לָכֶת in full control of his middos.