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Mishlei 17-20 


Key Concepts

To do what is right a person needs to be able to recognize truth, but that can only be done if he has a clear mind and thinks things through. His mind will then influence his heart to find the right way through life under the guidance of the Torah and his teachers. Such a person is referred to as a חֲכַם לֵב (wise of heart). Note that for our purposes the mind and the heart are synonymous. However, the word heart is used here to refer to the part of the human personality that impels a person to action.

If a person’s thinking suffers from a lack of clarity, he may be unable to recognize truth. His flawed mind will then be unable to guide his heart in finding the right way. Such a person is referred to as an עִקֶּשׁ לֵב (flawed of heart).

A person who is able to think clearly but chooses not to acknowledge the truth is described as having a perverse tongue (נֶהְפָּךְ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ). He speaks in a duplicitous manner and misleads others.

Exploring Mishlei

כ = עִקֶּשׁ לֵב לֹא יִמְצָא טוֹב וְנֶהְפָּךְ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה

(20) The person who is flawed of heart will not find the good way,
and the perverse speaker will fall into evil.

This proverb describes the flawed thinker (עִקֶּשׁ לֵב) as being unable to find the good way through life. In contrast there are people who can think clearly but are tempted to act perversely. These people of a perverse tongue (נֶהְפָּךְ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ) will favor someone they like even though he is undeserving, and they will be biased against someone they don’t like even if he deserves to be treated well. Not only will a person of perverted tongue fail to find the good way, he will end up doing harm to others (יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה).

Learning Mishlei

(20) He who is flawed of heartעִקֶּשׁ לֵב
will not find the good wayלֹא יִמְצָא טוֹב
and the man of perverted tongueוְנֶהְפָּךְ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ.
will fall into evilיִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה.

Additional Insights

[1] The man of perverted tongue will end up falling into the evil (יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה). that he intended to impose on his innocent victim. (אבן עזרא)

[2] The person who cannot find the good way should turn to the wisdom of the Torah for guidance. That wisdom will bring him to clear thinking. (מלבי”ם)

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Mishlei 17-20 (Perversity) PDF version