`174 Contemporary Lessons from Mishlei – Part 4
Chananya Weissman
January 3, 2022

Most of Mishlei is devoted to contrasting various types of fools with those who pursue the Torah's wisdom. The following proverb is particularly insightful for our time:

איש חכם נשפט את איש אויל ורגז ושחק ואין נחת

A wise man contends with a foolish man; he rages and mocks, and there is no satisfaction. (29:9)

It is important to note that not all fools are created equal. The one mentioned here, the eh'vil, casts doubt on the most basic objective truths. He believes that his skepticism of the reality staring him in the face, and his clever ways of supporting alternate conclusions, is the highest form of intellectualism.

The eh'vil sees the sea splitting before the Jews, and the Egyptians drowning in the water at the same time Jews are crossing on dry land, and argues that this was a natural event. The Jews were in the right place at just the right time, and it happened to work out for them. Go ahead and “prove” him wrong.

The eh'vil sees people dropping dead in large numbers after being injected with something and argues that the injections had nothing to do with it. “Correlation doesn't equal causation!” he triumphantly declares. “Maybe they drank bleach. Ha ha. No evidence!”

This type of fool is the product of Amalek's indoctrination. Amalek is the numerical value of safek (doubt). The Hebrew word for eh'vil (אויל) has the same letters as the word ulay (אולי), which means “maybe”, for he always plays Devil's advocate – maybe this, maybe that. He thinks he is a philosophical and rhetorical genius, but according to the Torah he is a total fool. (For much more on this, see Amalek’s Last Stand.)

Back to our pasuk in Mishlei. Our commentators provide further insight into what happens when a wise man contends with such a person.

Rashi explains that the second half refers to the wise person as well. He reads it as follows: Whether the [wise man] shows him an angry face or a jovial face, he will find satisfaction with neither one. This is because the eh'vil is impervious to stern rebukes or pleasant overtures. Other types of fools may be interested in the truth, but this one has made a religion out of his “enlightened” skepticism. Neither friendly outreach nor reams of information will sway him, and the wise man who tries will only be frustrated.

Malbim reads the pasuk similarly and elaborates along these lines. He contrasts the eh'vil with two others types of fools, the kesil (כסיל) and the pesi (פתי). The kesil recognizes the ways of wisdom, but abandons them to satisfy his desires. He will rationalize his behavior, but deep down he knows the truth. A wise man will give an angry rebuke to such a person because he is a willful sinner. A stern approach may rattle such a person to repent and subjugate his desires in favor of what is right.

The pesi turns away from the laws of wisdom because he doesn't understand them. He is easily duped by false ideologies, and lacks discernment. The wise man will approach such a fool with friendliness and gradually teach him the ways of wisdom.

When it comes to the eh'vil, explains the Malbim, neither approach will work. If the wise man tries to rebuke this fool with reason and teach him the laws of wisdom, the eh'vil will not accept them, but will continue to cast doubts on them. If the wise man takes a more magnanimous approach, because the eh'vil is not a willful sinner, but stuck with his doubts, he still won't get anywhere. After all, there is no way to “scientifically prove” the laws of wisdom, so one who prefers to be plagued and spiritually paralyzed by doubts will always be able to rationalize it.

The wise man will therefore never find satisfaction in trying to teach the eh'vil. An advocate for the devil is unteachable.

Ralbag explains this pasuk differently. He reads it as I translated it above, in which the second half refers to the fool; the wise man contends with the fool, who reacts with anger or jeers. I believe this is the smoothest reading.

Ralbag writes as follows: When the wise man contends with the fool and has a discussion with him, the fool will not allow the wise man to speak his words and complete them. Sometimes he will get angry at what he hears from the words of the wise man, and he will not allow him to complete them. Sometimes he will mock and jeer at what he hears from his words, and he will not give him the satisfaction to complete his words in order to complete the point he intended to clarify with his words. This statement is essentially warning the wise man not to argue with the fool.

This really captures what we have experienced when trying to engage those whose minds have fallen to the insidious ideology of Amalek. They cut us off and do not allow us to complete a sentence, let alone a thought. Their reactions alternate between malicious anger and sanctimonious scorn.

For all their self-proclaimed allegiance to science, facts, data, and enlightened thinking, they are unwilling to allow anyone outside their box to even finish speaking, let alone consider the merit of their words. For all their presumed moral superiority, they demonstrate no control over their emotions. Their reactions are uniform – which is quite creepy – and entirely predictable.

Indeed, as much as they believe they are more wise and clever than those who preceded them, they are nothing but tired retreads of the classical fool. The Torah taught us all about them thousands of years ago. They will waste away with their foolish ideologies, like all their spiritual predecessors, while the timeless wisdom of the Torah will continue to illuminate the world.