Brit-Am/Hebrew Nations Notes and Commentary
[Translated loosely by Yair in the Light of the Metsudat Commentary (written by Rabbis ALTSCHULER, 1700s, father and son) and adapted in parts from the NASB translation. On the whole our rendition is similar to that of the English ones BUT here and there may be found drastic differences.]
Proverbs 26: 1-5 Keep Away from Fools and Foolishness!
1 Like snow on summer fruit [laid out for drying], and like rain at harvest time,
It is not agreeable to give honor to a fool.
2 Like a bird that migrates and a bat that flies so gratuitous curse will not come [but rather return on the head of the one who gave it].
The word translated as "to migrate" in Hebrew is "le-Nod" literally to move ["nod"]. This is similar to the English word "nod".
The word translated as "bird" is "Tsippor." This is where the English word "sparrow" comes from, as pointed out by Isaac Mozeson, "The Word".
3 A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
And a rod for the back of fools.
The word translated as "fool" in Hebrew is "casel." This connotes surety, confidence. Someone who is too sure of themselves will often act foolishly. Accepted codes of behavior exist that in general should be adhered to.
4 Do not answer a fool in his foolishness,
lest you be equal to him.
5 Answer a fool in his foolishness,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Here we have in verses 26:5 and 26:6 one thing and its opposite. Verse 25:4 says not to answer a fool in his foolishness while verse 26:6 says affirmatively to so answer him.
The word we have translated as "foolishness" in Hebrew is "avel" connoting more precisely "criminal irresponsibility".
A related word (but spelt slightly differently) is "evil" which is pronounced quite similarly and has the same meaning as "evil" in English.
In Hebrew the expression for "fool' connotes a certain degree of moral turpitude and not just lack of common sense.
One may meet people at a lower level than one self. We are advised not to lower ourselves to their level. They may assume that we are like unto them and try to drag us down.
On the other hand we sometimes have to give an answer to claims made by the fools at the same level as they make them. Everything according to its time and place.
Proverbs 26: 6-12. Beware of Fools and Foolishness
The following verses have the common theme of what being a fool, or dealing with one, means:
6 He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence
Who sends a message by the hand of a fool.
This is correct BUT the word transalted as "violence" can also mean contradiction as explained by Metsudat Tsion.
Someone who uses a fool as his emissary may defeat his won purpose.
7 Like the legs which are useless to the lame,
So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
This is similar to the previous saying (26:6).
The word translated as "proverb" in Hebrew is "moshel" meaning more exactly "anecdote" but also connoting wise saying.
A fool uses an anecdote or wise saying in a way that is contradictory to its real meaning.
8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling,
So is he who gives honor to a fool.
9 Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard,
So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
A thorn is a harmful thing that is liable to harm the person using it as well as others.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone,
So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.
Alternate Translation based on the Hebrew:
# A quarrelsome person desecrates every thing ["kills everybody']. He hires a fool, he hires passersby.#
A person of contentious nature destroys everything around him. He has nobody to rely upon and must hire a fool or whoever is available.
So too, is somebody who hires a fool or whoever passes by.
Additional explanations exist.
11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.
There is a saying,
"Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me."
In reality we may find ourselves making the same mistake several times over before we wake up.
12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
We should always be willing to learn from others.
Proverbs 26:13-16 Do What You Have to Do!
13 Says the sluggard , "There is a lurking lion on the route,
A lion in the streets!"
14 As the door turns on its hinges,
So does the sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the bowl;
He is tired of bringing it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
Than seven men who can give a reasoned answer.
Taken to its extreme we have all met types who meet the above description to some degree.
We ourselves may be afflicted by the curse of inactivity, of not doing what has to be done, of finding some excuse.
To go in the way of the Almighty means not only doing good and avoiding evil.
It also involves taking affirmative action and doing what needs to be done.
Proverbs 26: 17-19 Be Careful and Responsible
17 Like Seizing a dog by its ears is a passerby who interferes in a quarrel not his own.
Do not interfere in the quarrels of other people.
It often happens that things are not as they seem.
You may see two people arguing and assume certain things BUT when you learn the previous history between them the picture may alter.
Why make trouble for yourself?
The point however is "strife not belonging" to you.
Sometimes you should intervene for the sake of justice and responsibility.
In such a case it would then pertain to you.
18 Like a madman who throws
Firebrands, arrows and death,
19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, 'Was I not joking?'
The above translation is correct and good.
The Hebrew may also be rendered:
As someone who wearies himself throwing darts and arrows and [agents of] death.
So is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, I was only kidding.
The Commentary Metsudat David explains this to mean:
Like a marksman wearying himself by practicing to shoot [but liable also to kill], so is one who is caught attempting to cheat another but claims he was not serious. Be careful.
This commentary has something to it but is difficult to resolve according to the exact wording.
The Malbim has an alternate explanation that fits the simple Hebrew better:
Like someone in mockery shooting darts and arrows [and causing] death.
First he shoots burning darts that scorch his clothes, then he shoots arrows that wound, then he shoots arrows that kill.
So is one who deceives his fellow, hurting first his possessions, then his body, then his soul. Finally he says he meant no serious harm.
The Europeans who persecuted, robbed, and killed Jews and now make excuses for it are in this category.
Proverbs 26: 20-28 Avoid Flatterers and Trouble-Makers
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
By refraining from recalling past offences and contentions we enhance the chances of co-operation and good feeling.
21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
Avoid causing argument and bitterness.
22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
We all like to hear bad things, e.g. what others have done, what others have said about others, what they have said about ourselves.
We derive a perverse pleasure from all this even though its effects are usually negative for everybody.
The word translated as "whisperer" is "nirgan" which may connote a complaining person in general.
The word translated as "dainy morsels" (in Hebrew "mitlahamim") can mean "blows, beatings."
A troublemaker who keeps on harping about something ultimately cause a breakage in our moral resistance and may cause us to become like him.
23 Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross
Are burning lips and a wicked heart.
Be-aware of people who spread malicious gossip.
24 He who hates disguises it with his lips,
But he lays up deceit in his heart.
25 When he speaks graciously, do not believe him,
For there are seven abominations in his heart.
There are certain types who may flatter and ingratiate themselves with us while denigrating others.
This may have become second nature with them. They should be avoided.
The first section of 26:24 in the Hebrew may be translated as,
"In his lips will the adversary make himself recognized."
Pay attention to how people talk especially they you may have reason to be suspicious about.
Very often when someone does us harm and we think back about it we realize that in some way they themselves were warning us to beware of them.
26 Though his hatred covers itself with guile,
His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
Everything comes out in the end.
27 He who digs a pit will fall into it,
And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.
We get what we cause.
28 A lying tongue hates those it crushes,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.
Someone who has a bad nature will harm others consciously or not.
(Commentary by Yair)