Nourishing the Heart

“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.

The Perils of Spreading Conflict

“Hatred stirs up conflict, while love covers up all offenses.” Proverbs 10:12

What do we think this proverb teaches? What does it not teach? What meaning might it have for us today?

Let’s start with what it does not teach. It does not condone covering up all offenses. When one commits a wrong, one may not cover it up. Proverbs 28:13

Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t, where and when appropriate, admonish others for wrongs done. Proverbs 27:5

The proverb does seem to teach, I think, the wisdom of diminishing the space of conflict in our lives and in the world.

Hatred ignites and spreads conflict. This certainly happens when, out of hatred, we make a bad situation worse by irritating and expanding it. Stirring up conflict from a latent condition to past the boiling point or inflaming existing conflict is extremely dangerous and should be avoided.

But love can “cover” offenses, that is, weaken or diminish them, thus, having the effect of reducing conflict. This is particularly so when we respond to offenses in appropriate and disciplined ways. Falling prey to making more of offenses than is warranted – whether it’s out of a bloated sense of self-righteousness, a decision to fan the flames when unnecessary, or a real, underlying motive of self-promotion – all can spread conflict and create or worsen problems.

The last thing I want to do here is get too deeply into our current political and civic strife. Nor do I want at all to excuse despicable behavior by those who act despicably.

But I do want to raise two questions in light of the wisdom of this proverb: 1) to what extent do we as citizens stir up further conflict through our own hatred of the other side, and 2) to what extent could we reduce conflict by allocating the blame and spite we assign to the other side with greater care, equanimity, and limits?

Often Unseen Are the Greatest Dangers

“No bird is caught in a net set out before his eyes.” Proverbs 1:17.

 

This first “proverb” in Proverbs appears in Lecture I where the father (or teacher) is warning his son (student) to avoid gangs, to avoid association with criminals or other bad people.

What does the proverb mean for the son, and for us?

There are several possibilities.

The principal lesson, I believe, is that the allure of associating with the wrong lot does not often practically carry with it loud warning bells of the dangers of being caught and getting in trouble. In other words, the mind of the tempted one is usually much more on the prospect of self-gain, the fun to be had, and the fruit of the enterprise than it is on an awareness of its negative consequences.

Even a bird knows better than to fly into a net. So, if we properly understand the risk and loss of going wrong, we wouldn’t “fly” there either. The father here is saying the net that awaits wrongdoers isn’t typically seen, so the warning initially must come from him and be internally seen and understood as a deterrent by the son.

Isn’t the same true for us? When we feel the urge to do wrong because we see mostly the benefit for ourselves in it, the Proverbs teach us to create and rely upon an in-built warning of a “net” to avoid it.

Sages throughout time have had other interpretations.

Some say the wisdom may be more about the bad guys. They’re more witless than birds. They don’t see the net that is before them, yet proceed anyway. The youth should be smart enough not to join such fools.

Another: the bad guys set out to catch up the innocent in their schemes, but have unwittingly set up a trap in which they all will be snared. Thus, the teacher warns the student against getting caught with them.