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Key Concepts of Mishlei 15-22 (Advice)
It is unpleasant to admit ignorance and therefore people often assume they know as much about an issue as there is to know. Because they know it all there is no reason to ask for advice and admit ignorance.
However, when a person is ignorant of something important, he obviously doesn’t know what there is to be known about it. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. So foolish decisions and poorly thought-out plans are often the result of a failure to have the humility that enables a person to seek advice, even when he has no idea what new insights the adviser may come up with.
Is one source of advice enough? Not necessarily. A complex issue may have many aspects that need to be clarified and so there is always the possibility that additional advisers will bring up something worthwhile.
It is not easy to decide who to ask for advice and how many people to ask. But, if it is a matter involving halachah or hashkafah, a Rov should definitely be the one to consult.
In this segment Mishlei challenges us to address these questions and not avoid dealing them because of pride or insecurity.
(כב) הָפֵר מַחֲשָׁבוֹת בְּאֵין סוֹד וּבְרֹב יוֹעֲצִים תָּקוּם:
(22) Plans are frustrated when there is no counsel, but through an abundance of counsellors there will be success.
This proverb compares the extremes of not receiving any advice with receiving plentiful advice. When a person makes plans without consulting anyone, his plans may very well be frustrated because of some consideration that he didn’t consider. So instead of erring by not getting advice, a person should consult with as many advisers as seems useful. This means he should overcome his natural inclination to restrict the number of advisers (but only as long as additional advisers are bringing him new insight).
Mishlei refers to advice or counsel using a word (סוֹד) , which also means “secret”. This is a subtle way of letting us know that the issue on which we need advice should only be discussed with people who we believe are qualified to advise us properly. Sharing our private affairs with too many people is likely to be self-defeating because we may be confused by unsupported or unwise suggestions. Furthermore, unfriendly people may become privy to our affairs and use the information to cause us harm.
(כב) הָפֵר מַחֲשָׁבוֹת בְּאֵין סוֹד
וּבְרֹב יוֹעֲצִים תָּקוּם:
Plans are frustrated — הָפֵר מַחֲשָׁבוֹת when there is no counsel — בְּאֵין סוֹד , but through an abundance of counsellors — וּבְרֹב יוֹעֲצִים there will be hope for success — תָּקוּם .
A series of additional 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) A clear distinction can be made between three related terms. A machshavah or “thought” represents one of many possible ideas or courses of action. During the process of consultation, a person may settle upon one course of action. This is an eitzah or “counsel”. In a complex situation a person may need to combine a number of eitzos together to form a strategy in which various contingincies are planned for. This is referred to as tachbulah. Our proverb deals with individual machshavos leading to an eitzah. The concept of tachbulah is addressed in Segment 11:13 (verse 11:14).
(2) If plans are not kept secret they may be undermined by adversaries before being ready for implementation. This is why plans should be shared only with those who have a “need to know.”
(3) If one person reveals a secret to another, the listener may not reveal it to a third party. Even if the information is not restricted by the prohibition against rechilus (tale bearing), there is always the potential of it being used to cause harm to the owner of the secret. Also, there is a general prohibition against violating a confidence (see Mishlei 20:19).
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – מלבי”ם
(2) – מלבי”ם
(3) – שערי תשובה