Every person is continually choosing between his physical needs and his spiritual needs. However, physical needs and desires are immediately visible and pressing, and therefore people are inclined to give priority to them. For a person to respond to his spiritual needs he needs to think about them first. This takes a degree of intelligence as well as training in how to make use of that intelligence. He needs to actively think about his life and his goals over the long run rather than the immediate gratification of physical desires.
An intelligent person who takes the time to think realizes that there is a path of life, involving continued spiritual growth over time. Instead of focusing his efforts on satisfying material desires, a person on such a path actively chooses to do what is right and good in every situation. This path of life is called an upward path because it leads to an ever higher spiritual level. It brings him ever closer to his Creator Who is patiently waiting for him to make upward progress on his path.
However, progress is often slow because there is a great temptation to give in to the power of one’s physical concerns. Without constant effort the individual is likely to slow down and fall back. But if he strives to overcome the natural forces pulling him back, he will be rewarded with spiritual serenity in this life and ultimately with eternal spiritual happiness in the World to Come.
On the other hand, if an individual lets himself be pulled back down by the ever-present material demands and becomes immersed in their gratification, his downward path can be expected to lead to disappointment and unhappiness, and ultimately to eternal spiritual death.
כד = אֹרַח חַיִּים לְמַעְלָה לְמַשְׂכִּיל לְמַעַן סוּר מִשְּׁאוֹל מָטָּה
(24) For the intelligent person, the path of life leads upwards
in continued spiritual growth to be rewarded with eternal spiritual life,
so that he will avoid the spiritual Grave of eternal destruction below.
This proverb identifies the existence of an upward path of life and suggests that those who choose it are people of intelligence. Keeping on this path is necessary to avoid the downward spiral ending up in a spiritual Grave, whose precise character is left undefined in the Book of Mishlei.
The concept of life as an upward path is an extension of earlier discussions in Mishlei. In Segment 04-10 we have seen how Mishlei introduces us to the Wisdom Road, a road of life involving many side-roads and choices along the way. The danger of choosing the wrong road is explored in Segment 04-14 and the importance of staying on course with watchful vigilance (zehirus) is elaborated upon in Segment
(24) The path of life — אֹרַח חַיִּים
leads upward — לְמַעְלָה,
for the intelligent person — לְמַשְׂכִּיל
who strives to do the will of His Creator
so that — לְמַעַן
he will have continued spiritual growth and spiritual
serenity. He will then ultimately be rewarded with eternal
life and his soul will return to its spiritual Source above.
He will avoid — סוּר
the downward path of immersion in earthly
pleasures for he knows that they will ultimately
lead to the spiritual Grave — מִשְּׁאוֹל
of eternal destruction below —מָטָּה.
(1) By choosing the upward path we are observing the wish of our Creator and fulfilling his purpose in Creating us. (אבן עזרא)
(2) The ultimate aspiration of the upward path is the soul’s desire to return to its spiritual Source. (מצודות)
(3) Making upward progress is difficult because one has to overcome the downward pull of the material world. But the knowledge that he is in danger of falling into the abyss can give a person the strength and courage he needs to keep going. (מלבי”ם)
(4) It is not possible to stand or sit idle on the path of life. If one is not moving upwards, he will inevitably slide downwards. (הגר”א)
NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click on the blue title below.
This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article.