בס״ד

Kavanot: Mishlei

Thoughts on Tanach and the Davening

After almost 12 years, we have finished our study of ספר תהילים with ספר שמואל and דברי הימים. We could go back and learn תהילים all over again; to paraphrase the declaration after finishing a מסכת:

הדרן עלך ספר תהילים והדרך עלן. דעתן עלך ספר תהילים ודעתך עלן. לא נתנשי מינך ספר תהילים ולא תתנשי מינן, לא בעלמא הדין ולא בעלמא דאתי.

מותאם מה־הדרן אחר שלמת המסכתא

There is always more to learn; it is always possible to go deeper. But I want to move onto another ספר in תנ״ך,‎ ספר משלי, for a number of reasons. It comes next in the sequence of books of תנ״ך, and it was composed by David’s son Shlomo, so it comes next chronologically. But it is also very similar to תהילים, as a series of poetic compositions about the author’s and our relationship with הקב״ה. Comparing and contrasting תהילים and משלי will deepen our understanding of both, and I hope to be able to do that. I remain utterly unqualified to teach תנ״ך, so I appreciate those who are willing to join me as I learn whatever I can.

The main sources for creating my מהלך in משלי (at least as I start out) are (in the order that I read them):

The Malbim on Mishlei book looks like it has an interesting back story; the title page reads, “abridged and adapted in English by Rabbi Charles Wengrov based on an original draft by Avivah Gottleib Zornberg” and Wengrov’s introduction includes the lines, “I am indebted to Avivah Gottleib Zornberg for a splendid first draft, done with deftness and grace, and with a fine command of English. It lightened my task considerably”. It was published in 1982, before Zornberg was the Avivah Gottleib Zornberg; Genesis: The Beginnings of Desire wasn’t published until 1995, and that book jacket says “For ten years, Zornberg has mesmerized…audiences…sharing her own understanding of how life and text inform each other”, so she must have just begun studying תנ״ך in earnest when she wrote that “first draft”. I would love to know what that back story was.

Rabbi Goldson taught at Block Yeshiva High School for many years, and is now a writer and speaker. His book Proverbial Beauty takes ספר משלי as a collection of metaphors (which is what the ספר says on the cover, after all), and uses the Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile as a meta-metaphor for the “Secrets for Success and Happiness from the Wisdom of the Ages”, as his book’s subtitle puts it.

Jehoshua Grintz was one of the first professors at Tel Aviv University. He was an academic Bible scholar who argued against the Documentary Hypothesis and for a much more traditional interpretation of תנ״ך. His essay outline the structure of משלי and compares its themes to other books of תנ״ך and other “Wisdom Literature” of neighboring countries.

Rabbi Morris reads ספר משלי as a מוסר ספר, and uses the classical commentators to understand each pasuk as a lesson in character improvement.

I will be re-reading these as I try to develop my own understanding of each section of משלי. Let’s see how well it holds together.

Appendix

Proverbial Beauty only covers a few selections of משלי.

  1. The Miracle of Immaturity: Chapter 1, verses 1-6
  2. The Miracle of Imperfection: Chapter 31, verses 25-29
  3. The Miracle of Dissatisfaction: Chapter 27, verse 7
  4. The Miracle of Misdirection: Chapter 13, verses 7-9
  5. The Miracle of Dependency: Chapter 27, verses 17-19
  6. The Miracle of Inexperience: Chapter 8, verses 33-35
  7. The Miracle of Conflict: Chapter 4, verses 23-27
  8. The Miracle of Limitations: Chapter 22, verses 28-29
  9. The Miracle of Shame: Chapter 12, verses 23-24
  10. The Miracle of Pain: Chapter 27, verses 21-22
  11. The Miracle of Irony: Chapter 26, verses 26-28
  12. The Miracle of Mortality: Chapter 24, verses 13-16

Mishlei Vocabulary

A Wise Guy, 3/12/2024 and 3/19/2024

ספרי אמת, 3/19/2024 and 3/26/2024

Why is a Raven Like a Writing-Desk, 3/26/2024

משלי א:ב—Phronesis and Akrasia, 4/2/2024

משלי א:ג-ד—Middle of the Road, 4/16/2024

משלי א:ה-ז—Know-It-All, 5/21/2024 and 6/4/2024

משלי א:ח-יט—Fatherly Advice, 6/18/2024

משלי א:כ-לג—Voice of Reason, 6/25/2024

Who is Wise, משלי ב:א-כב