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Key Concepts of Mishlei 17-16 (Illusions)
As we have seen, a major theme of Mishlei is to teach people to appreciate Torah wisdom and to encourage them to do what they can to acquire that wisdom. But Mishlei now advises the reader that if he want to embark on the road to learning he should first think of his personal qualities as a human being. Is he worthy of being granted such a treasure? Despite all the time and effort that he is prepared to spend, he won’t truly succeed if he is under the illusion that he himself won’t need to change.
Mishlei teaches us that a person is a fool if he thinks his investment assures him the promise of Torah wisdom. What he also needs to do is to evaluate himself. He will not succeed until he makes of himself a vessel that is capable of receiving Torah wisdom.
THis means the full realization that Torah wisdom is a gift from the Creator. It is granted only to those who approach it with the right attitude and the right qualities of moral and spiritual character.
(טז) לָמָּה זֶּה מְחִיר בְּיַד כְּסִיל לִקְנוֹת חָכְמָה וְלֶב אָיִן:
Why is there money in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, though he lacks heart?
This proverb expresses amazement at the folly of someone who thinks he can acquire Torah wisdom despite lacking the essential qualifications. Although he says he is prepared to pay the price of wisdom, he still cannot buy it because he lacks character (heart).
That is because he thinks of learning as simply a matter of time and effort. But all the time and effort that he is prepared to expend is not enough if he is unworthy.
So the proverb asks what this investment is doing in his hand. The proverb tells him that he will be turned away because he lacks heart. What is heart? It is a quality of moral moral and spiritual character, which is the subject of this sacred book of Mishlei.
Some of the aspects of moral character that are especially relevant for one who wishes to learn Torah wisdom are mentioned below under Additional Insights.
(טז) לָמָּה זֶּה מְחִיר בְּיַד כְּסִיל
לִקְנוֹת חָכְמָה וְלֶב אָיִן:
Why is there money, that is, time and effort, — לָמָּה זֶּה מְחִיר in the hand of a fool — בְּיַד כְּסִיל — with illusions that he has enough to buy wisdom — לִקְנוֹת חָכְמָה , though he is without heart — וְלֶב אָיִן ?
(1) To acquire Torah a person must have the intent of actually observing the mitzvos that he learns. ( רש”י )
(2) If he lacks the desire to learn he will be unsuccessful. ( אבן עזרא )
(3) Torah is an intellectual study. A person needs to have the patience and ability to think in terms of concepts and their relationships. ( מצודות )
(4) To acquire Torah wisdom a person needs to have moral and spiritual strengths such as humility, kindness, and respect. ( רבינו יונה )
(5). A person who is so pleased with himself that he thinks he already knows what is important will be unable to learn the Torah. ( רשר”ה )
(6) If he has not mastered the ability to control his cravings and desires he will be unable to learn Torah. ( מלבים )
(7) A person who seeks to learns Torah but lacks the fear of Hashem will fail in his quest. ( יומא עב: )