“Dead flies make stench flow from the oil of the ointment-mixer; a little folly is esteemed more than wisdom and honor.”
This is one of my favorite lines in the whole of this book. The philosopher, Blaise Pascal, would write: “The power of flies, which win battles, hinder our soul from action, devour our body.” While I know that God has a purpose for flies — they help with the decomposition of matter and provide food for spiders and toads, for instance — they can be the greatest of nuances. How often has your deep thought been distracted by flies? How often has a relaxing afternoon turned into a mad dash for a fly swatter, only to discover the fly out of sight until you put the swatter back? How often has a good meal been ruined by flies buzzing about and landing on the food? And, as the rabbi’s point out, just one fly, in its dying, can often land in the ointment that the perfumer is making, ruining the whole batch. Indeed, the power of the flies.
Yet, both Solomon and Pascal had something more in mind. The words that follow this remind us of how just a little bit of foolishness, like the fly, can ruin both wisdom and honor — just as one sinner can tear down much good (see above). Pascal follows the words of the fly with a reminder that “When we are too young, our judgment is at fault, so also when we are too old” (Pensees). The same line of thought is advanced. Do not trust the foolishness of the youth (or of the senile), but pursue wisdom where it can be found. Do not let the foolish flies in when you are applying yourself to matters of importance and of great value. They will cause the whole to stink.