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Proverbs and Ecclesiastes
B"H. Here is a question we received:
Quote:What is the true meaning of this verse? "For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge, increases pain."

Thanks for your question about that last verse (#18) of Chapter 1 in the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). The first thing to notice is that this verse begs for explanation, but Rashi does not give any explanation. This must mean that he has already provided it in his explanation of an earlier verse. In fact, the answer is in Rashi's explanation of the preceding verse (1:17) -
"And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I know that this too is a frustration."

The author of this Book of Kohelet was King Solomon, and he authored it with Divine inspiration at the end of his life, looking back at the errors he made. He transgressed 3 commandments that are specifically for a Jewish king (Deut. 17:16-17): not to own many horses, not to have many wives, and not to amass great wealth. Very unusually, in those verses the Torah gives reasons for these commandments: so that the king would not return Jews to Egypt (where the horses were purchased from), and so his heart would not be turned away [from G-d] by his many wives and great wealth. King Solomon, in his is great wisdom, thought that if he would fulfill the REASONS for those commandments, by not turning his heart away from G-d, and not returning his people to Egypt, he would not have to keep the commandments themselves. At the end of his life, King Solomon foresaw that the vexation which his actions had caused to G-d would have harsh results for the Jewish people - that the 10 northern Tribes would rebel against the rule of the Davidic kings, the nation would be divided, and eventually the 10 northern Tribes would be conquered and lost in exile.

Rashi explains Ecc. 1:17 -
Quote:"I know" - now that also wisdom has frustration in it, for in great wisdom, a person relies on his great wisdom and does not distance himself from prohibition, and much vexation comes to the Holy One, blessed be He. I [Solomon] said, "I will acquire many horses, but I will not return the people to Egypt," but ultimately, I returned [them]. I said, "I will take many wives, but they will not turn my heart away," but it is written about me, (I Kings 11:4): "his wives turned away his heart." And so he says, (Prov. 30:1): "The words of the man concerning, 'G-d is with me'; yea, G-d is with me, and I will be able."

Here is Rashi's explanation of that verse in Proverbs (30:1), which King Solomon also said about himself:
Quote:"the words of the man concerning, 'G-d is with me' ": the man, that is Solomon [who said] this prophecy concerning himself [at the end of his life] because ... he relied on his wisdom to increase gold, horses and wives, which he was forbidden to increase, and so he said, "G-d is with me, and I will be able - I will increase wives, and they will not turn my heart away; I will increase gold, and I will not turn away; I will increase horses, and I will not take the people back to Egypt."
"yea, G-d is with me, and I will be able": Since he [Solomon] said, "G-d is with me, and I will be able to do it, and I will not stumble." ... because of [my thinking] "G-d is with me"...

This is the subject of Rambam's explanation in his "Books of the Commandments," of Negative Commandment #365 for the Jewish people (the last of the Negative Commandments), as he writes:

Quote:The 365th prohibition is that a [Jewish] king is forbidden from having too much money for his personal use.
The source of this prohibition is G-d's statement (exalted be He), "He must not accumulate very much silver and gold" (Deut. 17:17).
The limit is that he should not have personal wealth beyond the expenses of his royal court and servants. To accumulate wealth for the needs of the Jewish people, however, is allowed.
The reasons for these commandments - "He must not have too many horses," "He must not have too many wives," and "He must not accumulate very much silver and gold" - are given in Scripture (Deut. 17:16-17). Since their reason was [made] known, it became possible to nullify them, as is well known from the case of Solomon, [who nullified them] in spite of his exalted level of knowledge and wisdom, and his being [named], "Yedidy-ah" [Beloved by G-d].
Our Sages said [in Tractate Sanhedrin] that this is a lesson to people that if G-d would reveal the reasons for all the commandments, they would find ways to disobey them. If even one who was so great and perfect [i.e. Solomon] could make the mistake of thinking that he could do the forbidden act and avoid the underlying reason for the prohibition, how much more so the more weak-minded masses. Certainly [if they knew the reasons for the Jewish commandments] they would [be misled by their human wisdom to] disregard them by saying, "this was prohibited," or "this was commanded only for such-and-such a reason. I can avoid the reason for which the commandment was given and ignore [the commandment itself]." In such a way, the entire Torah could be nullified. G-d therefore concealed their rationale.
There is not a single commandment, however, that does not have a reason and purpose. The majority of these causes and reasons, though, cannot be grasped or understood by the masses. But regarding them all, the Prophet [King David] says (Psalms 19:9), "The commandments of G-d are straight, they make the heart rejoice." And I ask that G-d, in His Kindness, help me fulfill everything that He has commanded from these [commandments], and to keep [me] far away from everything He has prohibited from them.


We can see a few other meanings in the verse Ecc. 1:18. Note that it mentions wisdom and knowledge separately:

- "in much wisdom is much vexation", because as a person gains more wisdom, he becomes more and more aware of the extent to which other people are lacking wisdom, and how they are continuing in their unwise, foolish ways. It's very vexing to a wise person when he considers the foolish actions, words and thoughts of unwise people, which bring harm upon themselves and others. If only such people would make the worthwhile effort (as the wise man does) to become more wise, the world could be a much better place (if their wisdom is used properly, as taught by the Seven Noahide Laws and the rest of the Torah's ethical and moral teachings). 

- "he who increases knowledge, increases pain", because the more knowledge a person gains, the more he becomes aware of how much more knowledge he is lacking. I.e., the more  knowledge that a person gains, the more he realizes how ignorant he really is of all the knowledge that is still beyond him.

I hope this answer is helpful for you!

Messages In This Thread
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes - by Finch - 10-04-2010, 01:39 PM
RE: Proverbs - by Director Michael - 10-06-2010, 12:17 AM
RE: Proverbs - by Gergely_Hungary - 08-29-2012, 06:25 AM
RE: Proverbs - by Director Michael - 08-30-2012, 02:28 AM
RE: Proverbs - by wonjoon3 - 08-27-2014, 05:54 PM
RE: Proverbs - by Director Michael - 08-31-2014, 11:47 PM
RE: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes - by Director Michael - 12-22-2019, 07:29 AM

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