Mishlei: The Wisdom To Accept
“To accept wise discipline, righteousness, justice, and fairness.” (Proverbs 1:3) It seems that everything that Solomon has taught so far about acquiring wisdom is in order to be able to accept wise discipline, righteousness, justice and fairness. Information is insufficient to be able to accept any of these, and, Solon implies, that acceptance is necessary to acquire them.
“It’s not fair!” was a common complaint in the house as the children were growing up. Unless Solomon’s definition of ‘fairness’ is different from a child’s, it seems that one does not need great wisdom to have a sense of fairness, and certainly not to accept that such a concept exists.
People seem to have an inherent sense and appreciation of justice. Why dos King Solomon insist that in order to just accept ‘justice’ that we must first acquire wisdom?
When I was a young child, many of my contemporaries collected Tzaddikim cards. We were taught to honor and aspire to righteousness. Again, why does Solomon insist that we need to acquire wisdom just to accept the principles of righteousness?
A child may suffer through discipline, but he certainly does not ‘accept’ it other being powerless to stop it. “It’s for your own good,” doesn’t work. We can understand that a certain mature wisdom is necessary to accept, even appreciate, wise discipline.
The Vilna Gaon rides to our rescue: He defines ‘Mussar Haskeil’ as the discipline necessary to succeed, as in “David was successful – Maskil – in all his ways.” (Samuel I 18:14)
The Gra continues by explaining that ‘Tzedek, u’mishpat u’meisharim’ – righteousness, justice and fairness – qualify the Mussar – the discipline. One needs wisdom in order to develop the discipline to act with the right balance of righteousness, justice and fairness in order to succeed in mastering himself and attaching to God. The Mussar – discipline – described in the previous verse is the knowledge of proper discipline. The Mussar of this verse describes Mussar in action.
One must begin with acts of righteousness and kindness towards all people and creations. However, it is not proper Mussar to always act with kindness. There are times when anger is necessary. (Berachot 5a: A person must always fight in anger against his Evil Inclination. See Rashi.) Justice sometimes demands anger rather than kindness. There are also times when a person must act with a balance of kindness and anger, which is the more accurate definition of ‘Meisharim’ – rather than ‘fairness.’
In another place, (Likutei HaGra) he teaches that a person who is naturally unforgiving and cold, must force himself far to the right, to the side of Chesed, in order to emulate the Creator (Shabbat 133b). (See Eruvin 22a) Once he has learned to control his natural inclinations, he should bring himself back a little more to the left – the side of justice – in order to properly guide his children. When a person has mastered the ability to move to the right and to the left when appropriate, has achieved Meisharim.
Only a person who has acquired wisdom in the manner taught by King Solomon in the first two verses, will be able to master such Mussar and succeed in achieving a life of attachment to God through his self-mastery.