Shabbos HaGadol

Prologue to Sefer HaMiddos, Part 5 (conclusion)
Shlomo HaMelech asks (Koheles 1:3): What benefit does a man gain from all his labor that he will labor beneath the sun?” We can explain what Shlomo is saying as follows. Admittedly a person’s labor generates benefit, in the form of various possessions that he acquires. And people work like crazy to acquire their possessions; as the Rambam puts it in his introduction to his commentary on Mishnah Seder Zeraim, were it not for crazy people, the world would be desolate. Moreover, people put great effort into safeguarding their possessions. But in the end, we all depart this world and leave our possessions behind. This being the case, what real benefit does the person himself gain from all his labor? The world benefits, but the person himself does not really benefit. As we stated in our commentary on Koheles 1:3 in Kol Yaakov, a person who spends his entire life toiling for worldly possessions as like a worker who earns only enough to feed himself, with nothing to bring home.
Accordingly, I [the Maggid] chose a different path, for the benefit of my soul, and the souls of other humble people like me, to take moral counsel and learn the ways of character development, from the bottom up, as we explained earlier based on Hoshea’s exhortation to return up to Hashem. And all is presented with clearly reasoned arguments, illustrated by parables, for parables have great power. Thus the Midrash teaches (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:8): “Do not regard parables lightly, for it is through parables that a person gains understanding of the Torah’s words.” In Eruvin 21b, the Gemara says that Shlomo came and made “ears ” for the Torah. My understanding of this teaching is as follows. It often happens that a person encounters a wise scholar and listens to him speak, but when he is asked later what the scholar said, he says: “I didn’t hear him.” You may point out to him that he was standing right next to the scholar. He will reply: “I didn’t pay attention.” But when a scholar begins his lesson with a parable, people open up their ears to hear everything he says. This was the approach Shlomo took in Sefer Mishlei: He fashioned parables and epigrams relating to what he wished to teach, and in this way “he made ears for the Torah” – that is, he stirred people to open up their ears and listen to his message.
Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect)
Our holy prophets have expounded profusely on the importance of the trait of mindful behavior – using intellectual knowledge as a guide to action – so much so that they have identified this trait as the foremost among the character traits needed to attain spiritual perfection. David HaMelech commanded his son (Divrei HaYamim Alef 28:9): “And, you, Shlomo, my son, know the God of your father” (see chapter 6). Shlomo, in turn, completed the message, saying (Mishlei 1:7): “Fear of Hashem is the source of knowledge.” Yeshayah’s opening rebuke to the Jewish People in begins by stressing the importance of activating the intellect (verse 1:3): “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey his master’s trough, but Yisrael did not know, My people did not ponder.” And our Sages teach (Berachos 33a): “Great is knowledge, which is mentioned in between two invocations of a Divine Name.” They say further (Nedarim 41a): “If you have acquired knowledge, what do you lack? And if you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?” Shlomo HaMelech, near the beginning of Sefer Mishlei – his book of ethical teachings in the form of proverbs – declares (Mishlei 1:22): “Until when, O simpletons, will you cherish silliness. Scoffers hanker for satire, and fools hate knowledge.” I therefore decided to begin this book with a discussion of mindful behavior, with an in-depth explanation of its essence, its nature, its eminence, and its benefits. Before we enter into our main discussion of this precious trait, however, we first explain the difference between the animals and man, the foremost creation, in regard to how their actions are driven.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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