Mishlei: Tree of Life III: The Wisdom To Not Hate Instruction
“My child, do not despise God’s ethical instruction, and do not allow yourself to be irritated by His rebuke, for God rebukes the one He loves, and like a father, He mollifies the child (Proverbs 3:11-18).”
We explained that the process begins with learning to not despise rebuke and not be annoyed by instruction. We cannot be expected to “Love rebuke” until we have learned to not resent it. We also pointed out that, contrary to common belief, “Yesurim” are ethical instruction, and “God’s Words” are rebuke. We then explained that to learn how to not hate instruction and be annoyed by rebuke, we must appreciate Wisdom’s value.
We then offered two keys to learning how to not negatively respond to Ethical Instruction and Rebuke as taught by the Vilna Gaon:
1) “Wisdom can (only) be found in ‘Ayin,‘ or God, Who is beyond comprehension(Ra’ava di’chol ra’avin, Ein Sof), and that 2) the Ethical Instruction and Rebuke are those of a “Father.” A parent will instruct, and, if unsuccessful, will then rebuke. Ethical Instruction, must precede Rebuke.
It seems to me that our inaccurate assumption that “Yesurim,” sufferings, are rebuke rather than instruction, is what leads us to despise them. A person loses his job or becomes ill. He suffers and begins to ask, “Why is God doing this to me?” Let’s evade the question of whether it is God Who is “doing it,” and address the person’s natural reaction. Most people assume that they are being punished. Unless they can find someone who has Divine Inspiration who can definitively explain the reason for the punishment, they will be at a loss. They believe they are suffering a punishment for something they cannot pinpoint. The punishment does not accomplish anything other than suffering. They naturally despise the process.
The Talmud (Berachot 5a) addresses Yisurim: “Raba (some say, R. Hisda) says: If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: ‘Let us search and try our ways, and return unto God.’ If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. For it is
said: ‘Happy is the man whom You chasten, O God, and teach out of Your law.’”
The Talmud (Eiruvin 13b) elaborates on this examination of conduct: “Our Rabbis taught: For two and a half years were Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel in dispute, the former asserting that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, and the latter maintaining that it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created.
They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him examine his actions, or, as others say, let him feel his actions.”
The Ramchal (The Path of the Just, Chapter 3: Concerning The Divisions of Watchfulness) explains, “It is to be seen that these two versions constitute two powerful and wise beneficial exhortations. For ‘examination’ of one’s deeds refers to an investigation of one’s deeds in general and a consideration of them to determine whether they might not include certain actions which should not be performed. It is a search for negatives, mistakes. ‘Feeling,’ however, implies the investigation even of the good actions themselves to determine whether they can be refined and perfected.”
The Talmud is describing Yisurim as jumpstarting a learning process of self-examination. They are not a punishment. They are intended to stimulate a serious accounting of one’s behavior. This only makes sense if the One doing the instructing designed the suffering to specifically address an outstanding issue that the person has the means to define and rectify. Yesurim that teach must, by definition, come from the Highest Wisdom, That Sees All and knows to design the suffering so the person can learn from it.
Such attention to the specific Yesurim reflects parental love.
The person suffering will not, cannot learn from his Yesurim unless he has connected to wisdom, as taught to this point by King Solomon, as a connection to the Highest Wisdom. The person has been acquiring wisdom as a connection to God and experiences God’s love expressed in granting wisdom. Only a person who has experienced God’s love through acquired wisdom will be able to use Yesurim as ethical instruction. Only he, will be able to “not despise” Yesurim.
When we engage in Shlomo’s process of acquiring wisdom as lovingly connecting to the Highest Wisdom we are prepared to learn from Yesurim as ethical instruction, and, hopefully, not hate the process.
Shlomo is teaching us that we must acquire wisdom, appreciate how it connects us to the Highest Wisdom, experience God’s love through the process, before we can receive Yesurim as instruction, not punishment. Learning must precede being able to receive Yesurim without resentment. Experiencing God’s love through our learning is essential to properly approach and use the instruction of Yesurim.
These verses are not about suffering as much as they are a celebration of wisdom. Hence, “Enriched is a person who has found wisdom, a person who can derive perception from it, for its commerce is better than the commerce of silver, and its produce, than fine gold. It is more precious than pearls, and all your desires cannot compare to it. Length of days is at its right; at its left, wealth and honor. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its pathways are peace. It is a Tree of Life to those who grasp it, and its supporters are enriched (Proverbs 3:11-18).”