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Mishlei: Mashal V’Nimashal: Allegory & Application Part One

The wisest of all men chose to use Mishalim – Analogies – to convey his most essential ideas. We have to explore the use of Mashal throughout the bible. “Regarding this the poets  – Moshlim – would say.” Numbers 21:27  Why does the Torah reference these poets?

I. Playing At Life
There are a number of opinions in the Talmud and Midrash as to the identity of these Moshlim – poets. One Midrash believes that the verse is referring to Balaam and his father. (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:30) The two were hired by Sichon the king of the Emorites to curse Moab before a battle between the two nations. The curse worked and Sichon conquered all the Moabite wealth. Sichon and Balaam succeeded in benefiting the Children of Israel: God had prohibited them from attacking Moab directly. When the Children of Israel defeated Sichon they were able to indirectly collect the wealth of Moab.

The poets believed that they were doing one thing, when in fact, God allowed them to play their games simply in order to benefit His nation. They were not dealing with the truth of existence. Their lives and plans were analogies. God was in control.

According to this Midrash, Solomon used Proverbs to remind us that although we function in this world, we must always be aware that God is in control and that we have no idea where He will take us. 

II. Part of the Vernacular
Another Midrash (Lekach Tov) compares these poets to the women in Samuel I 18:7: “The rejoicing women called out, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” People love to exaggerate stories in order to get their point across to others. They simplify the stories to get their message across.

According to this Midrash, the Torah is describing how the common person viewed the power of Sichon before his battle with Israel. The victory was a challenge to the common way of viewing the world.

Shlomo wanted to establish certain principles of wisdom as part of the vernacular. He wanted these ideas to become a natural part of the vocabulary of the common person.

We plan to apply these approaches and those that we will discuss in the next essay, to each idea we will learn in Mishlei.
To Be Continued…

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