“The lips of the righteous shepherd many, while fools die because of lack of sense.” Proverbs 10:21
This is rich! Let’s dive right in.
The Hebrew word for what is translated as the “righteous” is tzadik. The proverb suggests that the speech of the tzadik achieves something very good.
So, first, we ask: who is a tzadik? A tzadik is one who acts in ways that are just, charitable, righteous, fair, equitable, and characterized by integrity. In essence, a tzadik is a person who sees the right and decent thing to do – what’s just and compassionate – and does it.
While we don’t have the time here to go into this concept more deeply, I know you can conjure up memories of a person who has regularly acted in these ways. This is a tzadik.
What’s fascinating about the proverb is that it says that a tzadik will “yiru” many others. The translation for “yiru” is “shepherd.” This could also mean feed, guide, associate with, desire, or honor. I generally love the idea that when a Hebrew word could mean many things, we should deem it as meaning all such things.
Thus, a person who speaks and lives in ways that are both just and compassionate guides, nourishes, and honors those with whom he/she associates.
The second part of the proverb may seem disjointed, but I believe it actually flows naturally. The fool is one who does not have the sense to be “fed” by the tzadik.
Yet, I think it involves more than that. The Hebrew word for “sense” is “lev,” which can also mean heart, mind, understanding, and even the inner self, including the seat of courage, emotion, pride, and conscience.
So, incorporating all these possibilities, we could come to this wisdom: We’re foolish if we fail to nourish our heart, that is, our understanding, our courage, our conscience. When this malnourishment approaches starvation, the inner self faces death. Nourishing the heart, we find life.