“A generous person will become rich, and he who sates [others] shall himself become sated as well (Proverbs 11:25).” This is a principle that I try to teach to my teens when I talk about philanthropy and lifelong giving. I think it’s easy for people to think that if they give to someone or something else, it inherently means that there’s less for them. But I see the opposite – it’s rewarding, and those who give receive that much and even more. When we give, we gain as well, in goodness, impact, and countless tangible and amorphous ways. It’s all too easy to make excuses to avoid giving – I don’t have enough, I’ll give later, they don’t deserve it. But if we look past the self-imposed roadblocks and do the right thing, the rewards for all parties are all the more. Whatever level we’re at financially, there’s always something we can do for someone else, and pay forward the blessings and rewards in our own lives.
“He who covers up hatred has false lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool (Proverbs 10:18).” I’m not sure if I fully agree with this verse. The second clause, definitely – anyone who spreads falsities is foolish, without a doubt. But the first part strikes me as more complex. There are plenty of scenarios that I can think of where it’s not necessarily a bad thing to cover up hatred or negativity. Sometimes a white lie can do a lot of good, sparing people unnecessary pain and sadness. It may be a falsity as the text defines it, but it’s not necessarily a zero sum game. If the intentions of the one speaking the falsehood are good, is it still a bad thing?
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1).” The first verse of this chapter jumped out at me because my whole family spent this morning building our sukkah. It’s one of the funniest days that our family spends every year. It goes without saying that we as a group are not particularly handy, but we have the best time together, figuring things out, and working together on our annual project. And it always turns out beautifully. My family is fairly typical, but we’re definitely special in our own ways. We’re closer than any other family I know – we all speak at least daily, if not multiple times a day. My dad has actually gotten frustrated with us on occasion, because now that all of us kids are grown and out of the house, when we come home to visit we never want to see friends or go out alone – all we want to do is be together. It’s really a beautiful family dynamic, and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s forged from days like this, when we’re all in it together, and just get to enjoy each other.
“I will love those who love me, and those who seek me eagerly will find me (Proverbs 8:17).” One of the many things that my mom and I share in common is that we both love easily. It’s the best feeling in the world to love, and by that I don’t just mean being ‘in love’ with someone. That takes time, effort, commitment, and I don’t mean to trivialize it in any way. But beyond lifelong love, there’s also the easy every day loves. In those cases, love it simple pleasures, and excitement, and enthusiasm. It’s loving the people who help us every day, who we work with, who we interact with, regardless of their roles. It doesn’t have to be serious or strong, but I really relate to the loving those who love me idea. If I’m treated well, I respond well, and I love those who show love towards me. I think that’s how all of us feel, and it’s great to see that echoed in this text.
This chapter of Proverbs, like many of them, has an extended metaphor about a strange, foreign woman who seduces the Israelite. She’s described as a harlot, brazen, and uses extremely sexual language as metaphor, but I’m trying to figure out what it’s for. “Come, let us take our fill of lovemaking until morning; let us enjoy ourselves with amorous embraces. For the man is not at home; he has gone on a long journey (Proverbs 7:18-19).” There’s clearly something in here about being seduced off the path and falling victim to foreign influences. It’s hard to read some of these texts with a modern mentality and to find a way to reconcile our sensibilities to the distinct fear and almost hatred of anything foreign. Today, we’re supposed to be openminded to those who aren’t like us, but back then, straying from the community was a legitimately terrifying thought. Is there a happy medium between the two – open but not naively so?
“There are six things that the Lord hates, and the seventh is an abomination of His soul; Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; a heart thinks thoughts of violence; feet that hasten to run to evil; [one who] speaks lies with false testimony and incites quarrels among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).” Damn. Things must be really bad if they’re listed as the things God hates the most. I like this list though – God hates liars, those who run to do or think or speak evil, and those who incite these things between others. The Jewish new year just passed, and we’re currently in the time known as the ten days of repentance, when we’re supposed to make amends for the wrongdoings between us throughout the year. And all of these things are things that on some scale, large or small, human beings have done to each other this year. For me personally, I can’t say that I’ve shed blood, but I’ve definitely lied, and moved closer to doing the wrong things than the right ones. So now I’m left wondering how I can do better this year. What steps can I take to be in a better position when I reflect a year from now?
“May your springs spread out rivulets of water in the squares (Proverbs 5:16).” Having lived in Israel for years, I can picture the literal meaning of this verse. Whenever there’s moisture of any kind on the ground, it spreads in a million different directions, particularly on the smooth Jerusalem stone in the squares that dot the city. The source spawns many offshoots, each of which finds their own path through the crevices and rises and falls of the rock. So when I saw this verse, I pictured the literal, as well as the metaphorical. In the symbolic sense, these words made me think about my practice as an educator. When I have all of my learners together, it’s like we’re the source of the spring, learning together and sharing knowledge and wisdom. But the best part is what happens next, when each of my learners takes their own messages from the session and spreads them in their own way, applying them to their own lives or sharing them with their respective communities. This disbursement is the most wonderful part of being an educator, because it means my impact is being felt by my learners as part of their Jewish journeys.
“Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth (Proverbs 4:5).” What’s the difference between wisdom and understanding, and how do we achieve both?
Wisdom is defined as:
- The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
- The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
- The body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specific society or period.
- The ability to understand or comprehend something.
- Sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving.
- Having insight or good judgment.
So if the goal is to obtain both of these things, we need to apply experiences, develop understandings, and connect with other human beings, as well as with content. That’s basically what any of us do as we go through life anyway, but I think the trick is to be mindful of it and to intentionally grow our skills in both arenas.
Sorry for the delay, dear readers! The Rosh Hashana holiday threw off my usual rhythm, but I’m eager to catch up today and get ready for the week ahead.
“Kindness and truth shall not leave you; bind them upon your neck, inscribe them upon the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3:3).” Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of picking a mantra, a guiding verse, and keeping it with me always. I’ve thought about it metaphorically, as well as physically. I want to find a piece of ancient and timeless wisdom that speaks to me in such a profound way that I want to carry it with me always. I had brief thoughts about that manifesting as a tattoo, but then I remembered that I’m way too clean cut for that, so instead I’ve been thinking about jewelry that I can wear daily to remind me of the words I want to live by. Now I just have to pick a verse!
“Thought shall watch over you; discretion shall guard you (Proverbs 2:11).” Discretion is a quality that a lot of people don’t praise and prioritize. In the age of the internet and social media, there’s an emphasis on boldness, on oversharing practically every detail of our lives and thoughts. While I recognize the irony of saying this on my own blog, I think there’s a lost art to discretion and discernment. If we’re discrete, we have more control over our lives on some level, including what people know about us, and how we are seen. Personal branding is a big thing these days, and requires finding a balance between sharing and sharing selectively, which in and of itself is the ultimate art of discretion.