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Thought for the Day: Delving Into Proverbs -- Business, Charity, Midos

The goyim call it "Proverbs", which means "a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice".  We call it Mishlei, which is reasonably translated as "analogies of ".  Translated that way, most physics texts could be subtitled "Mishlei this or that topic."  That is, the way we teach physics is always by building models from systems with which we have everyday experience.  Waves (electromagnetic radiation, X-rays, microwaves, etc) are all built from our experience with waves on the beach.  Anything that wants to return to its original position after being whacked (MRI, diving boards, details of planetary motion, etc) are all built on our experience with springs.  Just as most physics books are not filled with "short pithy sayings", neither is Mishlei.

According to the G"ra, Mishlei is actually a trilogy.  The first volume discusses the nature of the evil inclination, schemes to thwart it, and the distressing result of succumbing to it.  The last volume discusses the greatness of privilege of being connected to the Torah.  The middle volume (which starts with chapter 10) contains those things we'd call proverbs.  More specifically, contrasting and comparing one thing and it's opposite.  Of course, each proverb is itself and analogy; something that is really only fully appreciated after learning the fist part of the Mishlei.  Let's take an example, shall we?

Mishlei 10:4 -- "The deceitful balance causes poverty; the diligent hand prosperity."  On the surface, Shlomo haMelech is teaching the very thing one thought would increase his bank account -- cheating on each transaction -- is actually draining it.  Working diligently to keep all transaction honest, on the other hand, is the way to wealth.  Not only do cheaters never prosper, they don't even stay even.  That's the simple, straightforward, surface meaning.  But we know there is more!  After all, we spent working to understand the intent of Mishlei by learning the first volume.

The word for balance is "kaf" (really, balance pan), which also means the palm of the hand.  When one gives charity "with a closed hand" -- that is, with just his palm, but his fingers bent back to hold the money -- then he ends up losing.  Charity given with an open hand, however, actually increases ones wealth.

At the deepest level, Shlomo HaMelech is telling us about our interaction with Torah.  When a person learns deceitfully; that is, he learns just enough to be able to nod knowingly at the right times and say over the occasional ma'amar Chazal or halacha, then he will lose even the small amount that he does learn.  A person who learns to understand Torah to its depth, however, will be rewarded with understanding far beyond what should be expected from his limited venue.

At all levels, the message is consistent: trying to "beat the system" yields nothing by a downward spiral of loss.  Making every effort to honestly utilize whatever he has been given, though, yields a bounty of reward.

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