Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:4


רָאשׁ עׂשֶׂה כַף־רְמִיָּה וְיַד חָרוּצִים תַּעֲשִׁיר׃


rāʾš ʿōśeh kaf-rəmīyyâ wəyad ḥārûṣîm taʿăšîr


Poor is one having an idle palm, but the diligent hand makes one rich.


* The translations or paraphrases of several ancient versions (Gr. Syr. Vul. Tgs.) use an abstract noun, implying different vowels (רֵאשׁ (rēʾš) – poverty). The reason for this may be that one more commonly finds a noun or substantive adjective in a predicative relationship with a participle (here, עׂשֶׂה (ʿōśeh) – one working/doing; see note below) rather than another participle (רָאשׁ (rāʾš)). The ancient versions predate vowel markings in the Hebrew text, so rāʾš and rēʾš would have looked identical. The ancient translators simply guessed rēʾš, the noun, based on what is typical. The Masoretic vowel markings make sense, here, even if two participles in predicative relationship is atypical. Ultimately, if the abstract noun is read, the sentence as a whole means more or less the same thing, with ‘poverty’ referring to the poor individual through synecdoche.

* The second word, עׂשֶׂה (ʿōśeh), is a G-stem masculine singular active participle from עָשָׂה (ʿāśāh), a common word which is normally translated “do” or “make” but which, like the English words “do” and “make” (in fact all languages have utility words of this sort), has a very wide and flexible semantic range. Here it could be translated “working with” […]

* Perhaps the most important rationale for רָאשׁ עׂשֶׂה (rāʾš ʿōśeh) is its reverse assonance with the last word תַּעֲשִׁיר (taʿăšîr): ר-שׁ-ע-ע-שׁ-ר.

* My first thought on seeing חָרוּצִים (ḥārûṣîm) was the idea of running, but then I realized I was thinking of the verb רוּצ (rûṣ). The adjective חָרוּצ (ḥārûṣ) is a different word altogether meaning sharp or diligent. Interestingly, both words are used of virtuous behavior. The verb רוּצ (rûṣ) shows up in several scenes in Genesis, for example, where hurried activity on behalf of a guest is described (Gen 18:2, 7; 24:20; 29:12). This is not to say that רוּצ is consciously called to mind in Prov 10:4, simply that the phonological similarity of two words describing virtuous behavior of a comparable kind is interesting (compare, for example, the English words “fast” and “steadfast”). Something to think about.

* There are two words identically spelled רְמִיָּה (rəmīyyâ), which BDB associates with two different root. The first, associated with רמה (II) communicates deceitfulness, while the second, less well-attested word, associated with רמה (III), communicates laxity, idleness, and laziness. Considering that the contrasting idea in the second clause is diligence, the second is more appropriate and more likely.

Full Parsing

רָאשׁ – Substantive participle, G-stem, masculine, singular from רישׁ or רושׁ. Translated “the one in poverty”
עׂשֶׂה – Verb, G-stem, active participle, masculine, singular from עָשָׂה (ʿāśāh). Translated “the one doing …”
כַף – Noun, feminine, singular, construct of כַּף (kap). Translated “the hand/palm of …”
רְמִיָּה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of רְמִיָּה (rəmīyyâ; associated with רמה (III)). Translated “idleness”
וְיַד – Noun, feminine, singular, construct of יַד (yad), with prefixed conjugation ו (w). Translated “but the hand of …”
חָרוּצִים – Substantive adjective, masculine plural absolute of חָרוּצ (ḥārûṣ). Translated “diligent people”
תַּעֲשִׁיר – Verb, H-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd, feminine, singular from עָשַׁר (ʿāšar). Translated “it makes rich”

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