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 17-07 (Self-Importance)
When an unaccomplished person acts with foolish self-importance, he is likely to give himself away by his pompous, lofty manner of speaking. His choice of language brands him as a faker. If he pretends to be a generous giver to worthy causes people will see through his pretentiousness. Even if he makes a large pledge to charity he will not be believed.
But what if he appears to be a true man of distinction, the same high-flown choice of words may be quite appropriate and people will give him the benefit of the doubt. For such a person to arouse suspicion he would have to go far beyond pompous language or an extravagant pledge. It is only when he speaks a language of obvious lies and deception that people will begin to realize with whom they are dealing.
(ז) לֹא נָאוָה לְנָבָל שְׂפַת יֶתֶר אַף כִּי לְנָדִיב שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר:
Grandiloquent speech is unfitting in an unworthy person [but may be fitting for for a man of nobility]. It is only lying speech [that would be similarly unfitting] in a man of nobility.
This proverb identifies the kind of grandiloquent speech that is appropriate to a man of nobility but would be recognized as being inappropriate to an unworthy scoundrel. A man of nobility with a reputation as a philanthropist would have to go far beyond grandiloquent choice of words to be challenged. He would have to stoop to lies and deception.
The proverb teaches that a person should realize how the way he speaks will affect the opinion that others have of him. To be believable his language should be suited to his behavior.
(ז) לֹא נָאוָה לְנָבָל שְׂפַת יֶתֶר
אַף כִּי לְנָדִיב שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר:
It is out of place — לֹא נָאוָה for an unworthy person — לְנָבָל to use grandiloquent speech — שְׂפַת יֶתֶר . But for a man of nobility — אַף כִּי לְנָדִיב – only lying speech — שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר would be similarly unfitting.
(1) In an alternate interpretation of the proverb, an unworthy person would feel uncomfortable using grandiloquent speech because it is too lofty for him. To even a greater extent, a man of nobility would detest lying speech . ( מצודות )
(2) In another alternate interpretation of the proverb it is referring to how people react to the words from the lips ( שְׂפַת ) of others. The unworthy person resists guidance that would elevate him ( שְׂפַת יֶתֶר ). The man of nobility is pleased with such advice, but would resist deceptive speech ( שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר ).( אבן עזרא )
(3) In another alternate interpretation of the proverb, the נָבָל is miserly and avoids generous commitments to charity ( שְׂפַת יֶתֶר ), but when he does make such a commitment he needs to be careful to keep his promise. All the more, a generous man ( נָדִיב ), who is likely to make such a commitment needs to be careful to keep it so that it is not a false commitment ( שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר ). ( מלבים )
(4). In another alternate interpretation of the proverb, the נָבָל is miserly with regard to his wisdom and avoids sharing it. Therefore wisdom is not appropriate for him ( לֹא נָאוָה ), because he does not deserve it. In contrast, a נָדִיב is generous with his wisdom, but needs to avoid distorting what he shares ( שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר ). ( מאירי )
(5) In another alternate interpretation of the proverb, the miserly נָבָל avoids the generous commitments ( שְׂפַת יֶתֶר ) that he is being asked to make, but if he gives in and plays the role of a philanthropist ( נָדִיב ) he fails to follow through and thus it becomes a false commitment ( שְׂפַת שָׁקֶר ). Therefore it is a mistake to try to get the נָבָל to make such a commitment. ( חנוך לנער )