by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
One of the dominant patterns in Mishle, or Proverbs, is Solomon’s giving counsel to a son, possibly Rehoboam, his eventual successor, but, with his 1000 wives and concubines, one cannot be certain how many sons he had and could be addressing. In chapter 3, one of the better known passages of the book, he again addresses his son. Instead of merely telling him to obey him because it was the right thing to do, the king adds that there is a payoff, a benefit, a reward, for doing so. While it is the right thing to obey Adonai for its own sake, the loving God knows what makes us tick and rewards His own children for obedience.
Verse 1: “B’ni torati al-tishkach v’mitzvotai yitzor libbeka”, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my mitzvot (commandments).” The use of the negative “al” instead of “lo” expresses an immediacy and implies that one constantly needs to make a fresh decision to not allow the father’s words to be forgotten. The use of “torati”, “my torah”, from the verb to instruct, drives home that Solomon’s words are more than idle words to fill time, but vital life values. Psalm 1 says that the happy man avoids the influence of wicked people, but, instead, “delights in the Torah of Adonai and therein meditates day and night”. Do this, says 3:2, “for length of days and years of life, and shalom they will add to you”. The 4th commandment in Exodus 20 says that one should honor father and mother that “your days may be long in the land…”
Verses 3-4: “Let kindness (chesed) and truth (emet) never leave you- bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Make these principles permanent components of your life, much as Deuteronomy 6 tells us to speak of them in whatever we do and bind them between our eyes, to our hands, and the posts of our doors. Our lives are to resonate with mercy and truth. Micah 6:8 states, “What does Adonai require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” The payoff is, “Then you will gain favor and a good name in the eyes of God and man.”
Probably the best known and most quoted part of this chapter, and possibly the entire book of Proverbs, is found in verses 5 and 6: “B’tach el-Adonai b’kol libbeka b’el-binatka al-tishaen. B’kol-d’rekeykha daehu v’hu y’yasher orchoteykha,”, “Trust in Adonai with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Most of my life I failed to notice that the Hebrew preposition relating “b’tach” “trust”, and “Adonai”, is not “b’” in or on, but “el”, to or toward. The implication is that though there are many circumstances that might seek to topple faith, we need to make a conscious choice to aim our trust in Elohim and His promises. The payoff, as very human Abraham and Moses and the other Biblical heroes discovered, is that those trusting God and obeying Him, win in the end. The verb translated “lean”, “tishaen” occurs here in the niphal, or passive, stem, implying more strongly not to allow our own perception of how things are going to be our basis for life choices. The result is that Adonai will make our paths even, removing the stones that would keep us from His chosen destination for us.
Verses 7-8: “do not be wise in your own eyes; fear Adonai and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.”- enough said there!
Verses 9-10: “Caved et-Adonai mechonekha umereshit kol-t’vuatekha”, “Honor Adonai with your wealth and with the first of your entire harvest.” Malachi 3 says that one who does not tithe (10%) robs God. Torah, in passages like Deuteronomy 14, tell us that the people are charged with the responsibility to financially support the work of the priests, Levites, sanctuary, and care of the poor. This was done through tithes and offerings. Elohim’s response to faithfulness in this area would be, “see if I will not open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing that overflows; I will rebuke the devourer for your sake.” Many foolishly use God’s tithe to buy a more expensive car or house. God promises that if His people will honor Him with their wealth, “your barns will be filled with plenty, your vats will overflow with new wine.”
We would do well to heed these instructions of a loving father to a beloved son, “for length of days and years of life, and shalom” added to us.
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.