Today’s daf (Ketubot 30a) quotes a verse from Mishlei 22:5 which states: צִנִּים פַּחִים בְּדֶרֶךְ עִקֵּשׁ שׁוֹמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְחַק מֵהֶם – ‘there are thorns and snares upon the crooked path; he who protects himself keep far from them’. Understood in this literal fashion (see Malbim and others on this verse) we are being guided to avoid extreme paths and behaviours which can be imbalanced and unhealthy, and instead to choose a middle path.
Significantly, there is another way to read this verse since the word צִנִּים can also be understood to refer to the cold, and פַּחִים can also be understood to refer to the hot. On this basis, we are being taught to protect ourselves from the dangers of cold and heat. In fact, explaining this verse in this manner, our Gemara then goes so far as to say that הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצינים פחים – ‘everything is in the hands of heaven except from [sickness brought on by exposure to] cold and heat’.
However, I would like to offer a further reading of this verse based on the fact that the word for ‘cynics’ in Modern Hebrew is צינים, while the word פח means ‘garbage/bin’ – thus those who act dismissively towards us and those who mistreat us as if we are worthless could be referred to as פחים.
Understood this way, Mishlei 22:5 comes to teach us that the crooked path is filled with people who are cynical as well as those who – oftentimes due to their own lack of self-worth – take pleasure in diminishing the self-worth of others by mistreating them, and that to live a healthy life you should do whatever you can to protect yourselves from such people.
This Motzei Shabbat/Sunday is Tisha B’Av when we recall the חורבן (destruction) of the Temples as well as many other tragedies in Jewish history. Yet while it is a national tragedy that our great Temples were pulled down and destroyed, we shouldn’t forget that the lure of destructive behaviour hasn’t left the hearts and minds of those on the crooked path, and that there are those today who, through their cynicism and mistreatment of others, endeavour to pull down and destroy others.
Of course, Tisha B’Av should remind us of the importance of אהבת חינם – of showing kindness and love to all people. At the same time, Tisha B’Av should also remind us that שׁוֹמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְחַק מֵהֶם – ‘if you want to protect yourself, keep far from such people’.