Mishlei 24:21 "My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not mingle with dualists" source

(1) please define "dualist" from the perspective of Judaism. If it is "someone who believes/practices dualism" then please define that dualism from Judaism's perspective.

(2) regardless what "dualism" is, how does God expect us to influence those we are advised not to mingle with. If "each to their own" then what hope for God's all-encompassing plan.

(3) "fear the Lord and the king" is this saying God is both Lord and king, or that there are 2 distinct authorities I need to respect.

(4) Any advice on how to balance the desire to be righteous by way of not mingling and the desire to do good by way of mingling.

If you're wondering about my train of thought, I'm considering all the undesirable elements of my life that I need to eliminate/reduce and deal with in the context of existing friendships and relationships.

  • What do you refer to as "God's all-encompassing plan"? I'm not understanding point 2. I don't really understand 4, either: is "righteous" a quote from somewhere? – msh210 Feb 7 '12 at 18:16
  • @msh210 I imagine the all-encompassing plan to somehow deal with the diffusion of Judaic values into the gentile population (which I presume would include the "dualists"). So, given the instruction not to mingle, I wondered how those values could ever become widespread. I also presumed that to follow the instruction (as with most scripture) is a path to righteousness, whereas in this case you might actually be doing the world a favour at your own expense (ie "do good") by mingling with different people and not following the instruction/advice. Correct me if there's something wrong here. – Sam Feb 8 '12 at 13:47

As LazerA points out very nicely, the word in question does not necessarily mean "Dualist" However, if you are reading the verse with that translation, then the following would be the answer to your question.

1) Dualist is a person who believes that there are two forces in the world, the Good and the Bad and that they are independent of each other. This is in contrast to the Jewish belief that Gd Creates both Good and Bad.

(2) Sometimes, you there is such a large divide between philosophies, that merely being around each other will not bridge that divide. With Dualists, there is nothing you will be able to do to convince them that really all comes from one Source.

(3) Yes. There are two distinct authorities, Gd and Just governments.. however, Gd is also Lord and King.

(4) When it comes to Dualists, there is a danger in mingling with them. The danger, is that since they believe there are two major forces in the world, one good and one bad, they can always attribute any action to either the Good force or the Evil force. This creates a relativism that can lead to bad character traits. When a person recognizes that everything in life comes from Gd, and therefore, even the Evil in the world has a purpose and will ultimately come to some good, it greatly changes a person's perspective. It means they will try to make the best out of a situation, and any successes they attribute to Gd, and any failures they will attribute to Gd's will as well. Since you could never convince a Dualist of this possibility, hanging out with them will just cause you trouble. However, since the pasuk references "my son", it's very possible that this advice is only given to the average person, and not to someone who is prepared and well learned, and guarded against the negative influences of a Dualists' perspective in life.

There is a lot lacking in my answer, but hopefully it will be a springboard to further study regarding how Jewish tradition views followers of Dualist philosophies, and explain why there is a desire to avoid Zugim (pairs) in many instances.

  • +1 Insightful and comprehensive with respect to the question. – Sam Feb 7 '12 at 11:56
  • It just dawned on me there you can gain some further insights by comparing the directive to fear the A. Lord and B. King, with the instruction to avoid Dualists. I.e. we are given 2 things to fear which might be read in a dualist way, and then to stay away from people who look at things in a binary fashion. – avi Feb 7 '12 at 12:05
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    Interesting you mention "binary fashion". I've often wondered about the wisdom of people who preconceive that the potential outcomes of any issue are necessarily dichotomously opposed. I call it "digital signals in a fuzzy analogue world" - I think it would make a good book title! – Sam Feb 7 '12 at 12:14
  • It was so hard to choose an answer this time (all fantastic), but once again avi seems to speak my language. – Sam Feb 9 '12 at 17:01

The verse says, "עם שונים אל תתערב" - "Do not associate with שונים". The simplest translation of the term is "those who change (or differ)." The Targum translates the term as "שטיי", fools or madmen. (Targum uses the same term earlier (Proverbs 8:5) when translating the term כסילים.)

The commentaries understand this in a number of ways. Most understand it to mean simply those whose behavior differs from the laws of God (and the king). (Ibn Ezra, Ralbag, Metzudas David) The Malbim explains the verse in a very straightforward manner, "Fear God, my son, as well as the king, and don't associate with those who wish to change the government."

The Talmud (Sotah 22a) gives a midrashic interpretation that the word means "those who study" and refers to those who study the Mishnah independently without rabbinic guidance (which leads to errors in halachic practice). (Another possible interpretation is also mentioned, "those who repeat" - referring to those who sin repeatedly.)

Rashi's commentary, that the word "שונים " refers to "those who say there are two powers" - "האומרים שתי רשויות יש", comes from a midrash. (I found a source that gives this commentary also in the name of Rav Saadia Gaon, but I don't know the original source for that.) Yalkut Shimoni quotes the midrash as saying, "אותם שאומרים שני אלוהות בעולם" - "Those who say that there are two gods in the world." This is a fairly straightforward concept, and could be a direct reference to Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and even Christianity.

The question is why Rashi chose to emphasize this particular midrashic interpretation over the simple meaning (as well as other midrashic interpretations that are closer to the simpler meaning). Unfortunately, I am not aware of any good commentary on Rashi on Mishlei (akin to the numerous such commentaries on Rashi's commentary on Chumash such as Mizrachi and Sifsei Chachamim).

  • +1 Thank you. Say, if you don't mind me asking, do you use the books themselves or software for your research, or are you able to recall all that from memory? – Sam Feb 9 '12 at 16:54
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    Definitely not memory. Combination of real books and online sources (such as Hebrewbooks.org). Mostly real books, though. – LazerA Feb 12 '12 at 12:55

R. Dovber of Lubavitch writes (quoting his father, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi) that these "dualists" are

האנשים המפרידים ומחלקים ביראת השם ויראת המלך

"those people who draw a distinction and division between fear of G-d and fear of the king"

- which, as he goes on to explain, is incorrect: an earthly king's majesty is a reflection and outflow of the divine attribute of kingship, and both deserve an equal degree of respect.

  • hmm... that's a significantly different definition of dualist than the one offered by @avi. It's like 2 different types of analysis. – Sam Feb 8 '12 at 13:31
  • @Sam: that indeed is how things often are in Jewish biblical interpretation (and in Jewish literature in general) - the same word or phrase can be understood on multiple levels of meaning. – Alex Feb 8 '12 at 20:36
  • yes, it seems to me, the Lubavitch's definition is more accurate with respect to the context with the text, however, the philosophical definition used by @avi allows for a wider application of the same theme (ie. be discerning about how you spend your time and the people you actively interact with). Are there formal names for these different interpretation modes? – Sam Feb 9 '12 at 3:11
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    @Sam: in general, we distinguish four overall modes of interpretation - peshat (the simple meaning), remez (hints and allusions in the text), derush (homiletic explanations - e.g., seeing a particular statement as establishing paradigms for other situations), and sod (Kabbalistic explanations). So possibly, in this case, R. Dovber's explanation might be more peshat, while the one Avi quoted might be more derush. On the other hand, you could also argue that each of them is peshat of a different kind - each of these four modes has lots of subdivisions. – Alex Feb 9 '12 at 4:30
  • I'm tempted to give you the green tick just for teaching me that golden nugget (the 4 types of meanings). – Sam Feb 9 '12 at 16:57

This often-used Jewish translation renders the verse like this:

"My son, fear thou the LORD and the king, and meddle not with them that are given to change"

Chabad.org provides the entire Tanach, in English, with Rashi's commentary. Here are Rashi's comments on this verse, as rendered by Chabad.org:

My son, fear the Lord and the king: Fear the Lord and fear the mortal king, but only if he does not turn you away from the fear of the Lord, for the fear of the Lord is always first. do not mingle with dualists: Heb. שונים, who say that there are two powers [governing the world].

My own deduction from Rashi is what שונים are similar to some Christians today, who believe that there are two Deities that run the world; G-d, who only does Good, and Satan, a.k.a the Devil, who only does Evil.

Indeed Rambam, who lived after Rashi, codifies the Oneness of G-d in his famous 13 articles/principles/foundations of faith.

See Principle II regarding the Oneness of G-d in Jewish belief.

As far as practical application goes - CYLOR regarding who to "mingle" with and to what extent.

In general, many observant Jews today have friends of different religions, but perhaps they don't spend inordinate amounts of time engaging in theological debate with them, lest they be led astray.

  • Sounds like Gnosticism from your description. – yitznewton Feb 7 '12 at 10:50
  • +1 Thanks so much for the great links, and CYLOR made me laugh (hadn't heard that before)! – Sam Feb 7 '12 at 11:47
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    @yitznewton Also Zoroastrianism, which was a bigger concern way back when in Bavel. – avi Feb 7 '12 at 11:59

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