Vilna Gaon on Sefer Mishlei

These shiurim are being given this semester (Spring 2021), every morning. We will iy”H B”N update the track list below with each day’s schmooze.

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See the table below the player for details about the shiurim in this series.

TrackTitleLength (mm:ss)Description
1Mishlei 1:1-2: Contexnt and Goal of Sefer Mishlei15:07Having a sense of what a sefer is about and seeking to accomplish is essential for the one learning it to get the most out of it and understand it. Knowing who the author is influences how you learn a sefer, and informs you that it makes sense to work harder to understand what the text means.
2Mishlei 1:1: Shlomo Hamelech’s Credentials17:53Gr”a comments on 1:1, “Shlomo ben Dovid, Melech Yisroel”: Mishlei is 3 seforim, the first of which is about mussar. One has to have proper credentials to be associated with a person such as Dovid haMelech, and to speak about mussar. Hence the passuk saying Shlomo is ben Dovid, who was a chossid. Chassidus has to express itself in middos (lifnim mishuras hadin), which is what mussar is about, hence Shlomo’s qualifications to talk about mussar because he is a qualified son of Dovid, who was also a chossid. Why do we need Shlomo’s credentials if Mishlei is in Tanach? Because the Ruach Hakodesh is according to the level of the receiver.
3Mishlei 1:2: Chochmo and/vs. Mussar20:15What’s the essential defining quality of Mishlei? that’s what passuk 2 tells us. Chochmo allows us to avoid being ensnared in the Yetzer Hara’s trap. Yetzer Hara works by allowing us to perceive something as good when it is not. Chochmo is to not fall prey to that misperception. Chochmo is used to discern, e.g. havadalah, as described in gemara Berachos. What’s mussar? Chastisement, verbal or physical. Chochmo is preventative, mussar is after-the-fact corrective measures.
There is a tremendous amount that a person can naturally, intuitively know. If he doesn’t figure it out naturally, then the Torah will clarify and guide the person.
4Mishlei 1:7: Yiras Hashem is Required to Acquire Chochmo u’Mussar13:10Yirah is the beginning / foundation of da’as. Only one who has Yiras Hashem can acquire and retain chochmo u’mussar. There has to be receptivity in order to learn and absorb, and the yirah is the receptivity to chochmo. “Chaviv alav v’shamor bo” – one type of unforgettable experience is when it means so much to you.
5Mishlei 1:8: Why Use a Mashal?15:24What’s accomplished by speaking in mesholim? To help us understand the point. Another reason to use mesholim – if dealing with sisrei Torah, to communicate it to those who are qualified and remain discrete to those who are not. Why do we need a mashal here for Torah b’ksav & b’al peh – neither of the previous reasons apply? Hence Gra saying two explanations of 1:8 – another reason to employ a mashal is if you can say two different things with one mashal, hence the mashal.
6Mishlei 1:7-8: Ingredients Needed for Spiritual Success23:27Pessukim 7-8 list off Torah, mitzvos aseh, and mitzvos lo sa’aseh. These 3 correspond to the 3 partners in creation (HKB”H, father, mother), i.e., each is contributing to us something we need to fulfill our obligations in this world.
7Mishlei 1:9-10: The Big Picture18:449: A person ornaments himself through Torah (“roshecha”) and mitzvos (“gargerosecha”), and both are “ohr echad.” All of Torah & mitzvos is one – there’s an intuition for Torah which ultimately one fully refines based on kol haTorah kula.
10: context of who a person is establishes in halacha a presumption as to how one should view what that person says, etc. “Choteih” refers to someone who neglects miztvos aseh. Ignore such a person’s offers / suggestions, even if it looks good, as they are definitely coming to ensnare you in aveiros, even if it seems otherwise.
8Mishlei 1:11 – Categories of Yetzer Hara. Associating with Wrongdoers.18:24Two categories of yetzer hara – desire and anger – which all yetzer haras fit under. Similar idea to the Aseres haDibros being categories for all 613 mitzvos. One can not maintain an association with an operation / company which is dishonest. Even if he doesn’t have to do anything wrong himself, he can’t work for a company which is fundamentally wrong / dishonest.
9Mishlei 1:12-13 – Mashal to Different Types of Thieves6:38
10Mishlei 1:14-15: Terrible is Still Terrible Even in Small Measures21:26Sometimes best way to grasp what’s wrong with something is to see what happens in the worst case scenario. And once you see that, you should stay away from that item even in small measure.
11Mishlei 1:16-17: Don’t Follow Rationalizations16:31There’s a yetzer hara to acknowledge, but then ignore, principles, and rationalize that the current case is an exception. Even when I don’t see how this “exception” can go wrong (vacation spot, secular college, etc.), we have to make our determination based on what we know, in general, to be true, and not based on whatever rationalizations we can think of for this case, no matter how certain we are of those rationalizations.
12Mishlei 1:20: When, and When Not, to be Ashamed26:23Shouldn’t be ashamed by keeping Torah; Torah is emmes, it is what we should be doing, and thus shouldn’t be embarrassed. He’vei az kanomer. Source of shame is being in the presence of HKB”H. When it comes to doing what HKB”H told me to do, being ashamed to do so is out of place.
13Mishlei 1:22: Foolish Decisions14:44Reasons we distance ourselves from Torah: 1) Olam hazeh is fleeting ephemeral, and yet we have a temptation to become preoccupied with it 2) we enjoy schmoozing 3) when we find we have to work hard to learn Torah, we abandon it.
A fool is someone who is not looking to gain knowledge; it’s not a question of IQ, rather what one puts his efforts into.
14Mishlei 1:23: Psychological & Emotional Momentum13:12Should be aware of death and gain perspective thereby, but not focused on it and thus lose simcha.
We create a psychological & emotional momentum with everything we do; a person develops a natural desire to continue with whatever he does. If someone is inclined to devarim betailim, he has to expose himself more with kedusha to get a taste of what awaits him if he habituates himself to mitzvos.
15Mishlei 1:23 – Exposure to, and Success in, Torah9:54How do peple end up hating Torah? See Gaon on 1:22 – insufficient exposure to Torah. Highlights a truth that sometimes an inadequate / inappropriate exposure to Torah is sometimes more damaging than no exposure.
Siyata d’Shmaya plays a special role in talmud Torah, hence one has to daven “gal einai…” Why the need for additional siyata d’Shmaya to succeed in learning? Because understanding chochmo Elokis requires succeeding on a supernatural level.
16Mishlei 1:24-25: Giving and Receiving Rebuke16:52Have to welcome tochacha for it to be likely to be effective and strike a chord. “Tochacha”, “l’ho’che’ach” means to clarify; the mitzvah is to clarify for the person and help them improve.
17Mishlei 1:26-27: Punishments of those who Neglect Torah12:41Describes the punishments for each category of people who neglect Torah. Middah k’neged middah. Imagery of darkness used to described that which befalls those who are seduced by the pleasures of olam hazeh. Mesilas Yesharim also describes olam hazeh as darkness which distorts their perceptions of the pleasures of olam hazeh.
18Mishlei 1:28 – Hard Work in Learning12:32To succeed in learning:
1) apply one assiduously to learn. The need for hard work is built in.
2) ask HKB”H for siyata d’shmaya in learning.
The consequences in this passuk refer to the 3 groups described earlier. Why are their cries not answered? Perhaps because they haven’t done teshuva on the past.
19Mishlei 1:29-30: What Sinners Reject11:23There are 4 things listed so far that sinners have rejected:
1) chochmo
2) yiras shomayim
2) What Torah says is right and advises us on avoiding what’s wrong
3) tochacha
The sinners not only didn’t pursue yiras shomayim, it wasn’t even something they deemed to be worthwhile when it is handed / presented to them. Can influence someone via advice or via tochacha; the sinners spurned both from HKB”H
20Mishlei 1:31-33: Spiritual Realities16:36Sinners will suffer the consequences of their ways. Sin itself has a deleterious effect (not just that one us punished for it after the fact); there is a spiritual-metaphysical cause and effect.

A life of Torah & mitzvos is a wonderful one, but not one in which one can take it easy.
21Mishlei 2:1-3 Aspects of Torah Learning.14:12Torah is something one must always, continuously take.
Complete understanding requires focus.
Understand that which is explicit and implicit.
22Mishlei 2:3: Learning Aloud12:13Have to learn aloud. Why? When a person speaks he’s more active than just listening, and bina requires the level of cognitive engagement that is achieved learning aloud. Hence tikra -> bina.
23Mishlei 2:4-5: Searching for Torah. Yirah & Chochmo.14:24Unbounded search for divrei Torah. Bakasha also indicates searching for something that was lost. We’re looking to find that which the malach taught us but we lost.
Yiras Hashem is the impetus to pursue chochmo, i.e. learn Torah. But what yirah means in its fullest sense is yiras cheit; without the chochmo you don’t have the “applied” yirah, i.e. the knowledge of what to avoid. Yirah uninformed by chochmo is unable to translate practically.
24Mishlei 2:5- Yirah & Chochmo, Binah & Da’as20:57Relationship between yirah & chochmo.
Without the bina – proper understanding – you don’t have the da’as / knowledge. Without the panoramic view of da’as, you don’t have a full bina either. They are two different levels of understanding.
25Mishlei 2:5-617:34Genuine yiras Hashem is mechayev in yiras chet.
Relationship between chochmo, which is yesh mei’ayin, and bina, which is embedded within chochmo.
Upward spiral of chochmo, bina, da’as, via siyata dishmaya.
26Mishlei 2:6-7: Applying Tradition Today21:362:6 – Person works on chochmo, etc., then HKB”H gives it to him on a higher level, on which he in turn builds, spiraling upward.
2:7 – Must be a tam in our commitment, but combine that with being a yashar & chochom in terms of discerning what HKB”H wants. Maintaining tradition doesn’t mean doing what previous generations did under very different circumstances and fighting yesterday’s battles. Otherwise, one ends up with a misplaced literalism.
27Mishlei 2:8: Choosing Good At Every Level16:11Yetzer hara also manifests in how one understands Torah, i.e. interpret truthfully. HKB”H created the world in a way that good requires making a choice; there’s always an alternative to doing, thinking, interpreting what is right. Everyone has to make choices on their level. The higher level one is one, the greater the fall from a bad decision (Sridei Aish regarding Acher.)
28Mishlei 2:9: Derech Meisharim, Middah Beinonis, and Tochacha19:57Interactions with other people should lean towards Rachamim / tzedek, controlling himself from excessive ta’ava – deal with himself in a manner of din / mishpat, and in necessary things he should deal with meisharim / the middle ground, e.g. needed amount of sleep, eating, etc.
How is seeking tochacha the derech hayashar? Middah beinonis is very precise – we have to calibrate to a high level of precision. Hence the need to be “shom dei’osav tamid” (Rambam), which is self-tochacha. Middah beinonis requries constant self-monitoring, and since “adam ein..v’lo yecheta”, will need external tochacha as well.
29Mishlei 2:10 Upward Spiral of Learning8:46Upward chochmo-binah-da’as-chochmo-etc. spiral in talmud Torah. The more chochmo one has, the more sweetness there is in the learning. Greater chochmo leads to greater retention. Understanding and sweetness of Torah is greater the more panoramic one’s view of Torah is.
30Mishlei 2:11 – Torah’s Protection from Aveiros7:53Your preoccupation with machshevos haTorah will safeguard you. This is true on 2 levels: Rambam end of Hilchos Isurei Bi’ah: a person should turn his thoughts to divrei Torah, since thoughts of arayos only enters when there is a vacuum of chochmo. The Gr”a is saying it more on the level of a segulah – that thoughts of Torah have this effect. One who had thoughts of aveiros and didn’t turn away from them needs an even higher level of protection, and that is provided by tevuna, which is greater and more encompassing than da’as.
31Mishlei 2:12: Torah Saves One From Both Obvious and Deceptive Evil9:30Yetzer Hara of Ta’ava and ka’as. Bad that masquerades as good is worse than bad which doesn’t pretend; when it masquerades one can easily be seduced. Torah saves us from both.
32Mishlei 2:13 – Derech Yosher, Middah Beinonis12:53Derech yosher is the middah beinonis / memutzeh. How does yosher connote derech memutzeh? Going straight requries not being influenced to vere left or right. How is there derech memutzeh multiple paths? One possibility is each middah has its own middle path, one path per middah. Another, al pi Rambam: the middle path is not a compromise between the extremes but a combination of them, using each at the time and to the degree that is correct.
33Mishlei 2:14 – Habits are Internalized14:01People outwardly bad vs. pretending they’re giving good advice but are really giving bad advice. Former described as taking joy using “simcha”, which indicates something that already existed, later as “gila”, which indicates something that is preexisting, since the bad materializes later. Reshaim depicted as enjoying evil. Why? Because we internalize and enjoy what we habituate ourselves to. Hence R’ Yona’s emphasis in the beginning of Sha’arei Teshuva of doing teshuva ASAP – the earlier the easier/better.
34Mishlei 2:16 – Tayva & Chemda15:11Tayva is desire for physical pleasure, chemda is for things that don’t create physical pleasure, e.g. money, houses. “Nochri’ah” – tayva, something we are not supposed to puruse. “Isha zara” – chemda, we’re allowed to pursue the amount of money etc. we need, but may not take that which belongs to others, i.e. zara. “Amore’ha hechelika” – tayva appears to us to be good, just like a smooth-talker can convince us of things that aren’t true.
35Mishlei 2:17 – Living on a Different Level9:09Wealth etc. is something external / extrinsic, which will never provide the satisfaction and self-fulfillment that Torah does. Having 613 mitzvos means we are supposed to be living a spiritual life, i.e. live on a different level than others.
36Mishlei 2:18 – The Impacts of Forsaking Torah14:43One who excessively pursues money / material things forsakes life (Torah = life), makes Torah feel burdensome to himself, and doesn’t have energy and time left for Torah.
37Mishlei 2:19 – Inverse Relationship Between Pursuit of Chemda and Torah8:32A person who resolves to fulfill his tayvas compromises his ability and capacity to appreciate Torah. Chovos Halevavos: love of physical pleasure and love of Olam Haboh are mutually exclusive, they can’t fully coexist; to the degree that someone loves one he doesn’t love the other.
38Mishlei 2:20 – Good Road and Righteous Path10:23Torah will put the person on the good path. A bad path has two fallouts – both the bad itself, and preventing involvement in good. Derech tovim – passive lifnim mishuras haDin – will be mochel. This is common. Orchos tzaddikim – going beyond what is common.
39Mishlei 2:21 – Yesharim and Temimim11:18Yesharim: insightful people who can strategize. Temimim: not strategists. To go outside the middle is correct as a temporary corrective measure, and yesharim make use of it. Temimim don’t do it, seemingly because they don’t need it as they have been balanced from day #1. This contrasts with Rambam Hilchos De’os 1:1 who seems to imply that no one is balanced from day #1.
40Mishlei 3:1-2: Blessings from Involvement in Torah & Mitzvos13:47Should always be involved with, and therefore conscious of, Torah. When one pulls back from learning, the process of forgetting begins. The 3 gains in passuk 2 refer to Torah, mitzvos aseh, and mitzvos lo sa’aseh, mentioned in passuk 1. Just as Torah is the greatest, its reward – shalom – is also greatest. Just as Torah is a catalyst for all other mitzvos, shalom is the catalyst for all other berachos.
41Mishlei 3:3 – Preoccupation With Chessed Ve’Emmes11:41Chessed – purely a benefaction; Emmes – repaying a kindness. Lists chessed first since that is limited in quantity, while emmes is limitless depending on the obligation. Bein adam lamakom: emmes is his own learning, chessed is teaching others as part of his chiyuv of chessed. Always preoccupied with chessed & emmes b’machashava, b’dibbur, & b’ma’aseh.
42Mishlei 3:4 – Chein. Bitachon & Hishtadlus.14:031) Chein is middah k’neged middah for chessed; is a natural, not supernatural, reaction with other people. 2) Bitachon should be wholehearted. We often experience it incompletely, and only have complete bitachon when we feel helpless. We are obligated to make histhladlus, but the success thereof depends 100% on HKB”H; we don’t rely on our hishtadlus, we rely on HKB”H.
43Mishlei 3:6 – B’chol Derachecha Da’ei’hu7:23In everything that you perceive (wide / visible, like a derech), do it l’shem Shomayim, and then HKB”H will steer us clear from the pitfalls we can’t see (orach – narrow, not visible.)
44Mishlei 3:7-8 – Indispensability of Mitzvos, Yiras Shomayim8:58Don’t think that miztvos are a dispensable means to an end if one thinks he has another way to reach the means; additionally, none of us ever fully understand the complete reason anyway. Antidote to yetzer hara is yiras Shomayim – no one cheats when the proctor is looking right at him.
Teshuva will be a refuah for your flesh. Not doing an aveira is itself a mitzvah.
45Mishlei 3:8-9: Teshuva, Yira, Tzedaka12:09Cheit is spiritual sickness, teshuva is a refuah. Rambam – we get reward for not doing an aveira per se. Maharal – reward only comes for the tza’ar invovled. Gr”a – every time we withhold from doing an aveira, we fulfill the mitzvas aseh of yiras Shomayim.
46Mishlei 3:11 – Accepting Yissurin & Tochacha9:39Accept yisruin with love, as they were sent. We don’t control anything besides our own bechira, but we are in control of how to process and relate to that which happens. When we see / receive tochacha from others that is on the mark, we should understand it as coming from HKB”H.
47Mishlei 3:12: Tochacha from Love; Corporal Punishment14:47Mitzvah of tochacha is to love, and be concerned about, the sinner and help him return to the proper way, and should be delivered as such. Corporal punishment is bad in this generation.
48Mishlei 3:13-14 – Chochmo vs. Tevuna16:10Chochmo, what comes via mesorah, is a metzia. Tevuna – understanding the chochmo via work – is bringing out the latent potential of the chochmo.
Why is it depicted that for tevuna it MUST be through his work, as opposed to getting it from his rebbe? Even if the rebbe presents tevuna to him, he must retrace / rethink what the rebbe presents to him; he must work to understand.
49Mishlei 3:15 – Value and Necessity of Torah9:39Torah is the most valuable and most necessary thing. Why bother with a comparison to diamonds, etc.? Ideally such a mashal adds nothing, but in our non-ideal states it does help.
50Mishlei 3:16-17 – Lishma vs. Lo Lishma w.r.t. Reward & Safety7:46Right – learn lishma; left – not lishma. Ramban: part of middah k’neged middah is that the reward for mitzvos will be correspond to motivations, i.e. olam hazeh or olam habba.
Rambam (Hil. Teshuva 8:4) – “noam Hashem” is one name for olam habba. Lishma == derech, wide; lo lishma == nesiv, narrow; on a wider path (lishma), it
s safer because less likely to get lost and end up off the path.