Mishlei: The Adornment and The Necklace
“Hear, my child, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother. For they are an adornment of grace for your head and a chain for your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9)
The Gra explains the difference between the adornment and the necklace: In their days, husbands would make jewelry for their wives that represented their qualities, as we find in the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 6:1), ‘Rabban Gamliel’s wife requested that her husband make a golden Band of Jerusalem for her as Rabbi Akiva had made for his wife. “But, you have not done what she did,” he responded.’
It is clear, says the Gra, that the jewelry reflected the accomplishments of the woman for whom it was made. They would make two different kinds of jewelry, one for her head and the other to be worn around her neck.
A husband would make a large single piece of jewelry to be worn on his wife’s head if she was a woman of proven great wisdom and beautiful deeds. The single piece for the head represented the mind, which is unified, and represented a woman who had unified her wisdom and action.
The necklace was made from many pieces strung together representing the Mitzvot the wife performed. Each Mitzvah exists on its own, appearing in different times and situations.
Torah represents unity, and Mitzvot represent the joining of multiple parts. This is why Solomon the adornment in the verse represents Torah, and the necklace represents the Mitzvot.
We find echoes of the Gra’s insight in Halacha: Tosafot (Berachot 11b) asks why Birchot HaTorah must only be recited once each day, whereas we must recite a blessing over sitting in the Succah each time we sit down for a meal? They answer that the Mitzvah of Torah is every second of every day, whereas there is a separate Mitzvah each time we sit down in the Succah.
Birchot HaTorah represent the unity of Torah, the single piece of metal that adorns the head of a woman. The Mitzvah of Succah is actually a number of Mitzvot, symbolized by the necklace of strung individual jewels.
Rabbeinu Yonah on the Rif expands on Tosafot’s idea by pointing out that we have to recite a new blessing if we removed our Tzitzit and then put them back on. We do not have to recite a new blessing if we stopped learning for a while. There is a separate Mitzvah, the necklace, each time we put on our Tzitzit. However, the Mitzvah of Torah is a constant that is never complete. We cannot finish. It is a unity that extends through the day, as long as we are awake. It is the adornment for the head.
Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us the value of the wisdom he offers in Mishlei: It affords us the ability to unify all we do until it becomes an single, unified adornment to be worn on our heads.