Caution Regarding Associates*

1Touch pitch and you blacken your hand;

associate with scoundrels and you learn their ways.

2Do not lift a weight too heavy for you,

or associate with anyone wealthier than you.

How can the clay pot go with the metal cauldron?

When they knock together, the pot will be smashed:

3The rich do wrong and boast of it,

while the poor are wronged and beg forgiveness.

4As long as the rich can use you they will enslave you,

but when you are down and out they will abandon you.

5As long as you have anything they will live with you,

but they will drain you dry without remorse.

6When they need you they will deceive you

and smile at you and raise your hopes;

they will speak kindly to you and say, “What do you need?”

7They will embarrass you at their dinner parties,

and finally laugh at you.

Afterwards, when they see you, they will pass you by,

and shake their heads at you.

8Be on guard: do not act too boldly;

do not be like those who lack sense.

9When the influential draw near, keep your distance;

then they will urge you all the more.

10Do not draw too close, lest you be rebuffed,

but do not keep too far away lest you be regarded as an enemy.

11Do not venture to be free with them,

do not trust their many words;

For by prolonged talk they will test you,

and though smiling they will probe you.

12Mercilessly they will make you a laughingstock,

and will not refrain from injury or chains.

13Be on your guard and take care

never to accompany lawless people.

15Every living thing loves its own kind,

and we all love someone like ourselves.

16Every living being keeps close to its own kind;

and people associate with their own kind.

17Is a wolf ever allied with a lamb?

So the sinner with the righteous.a

18Can there be peace between the hyena and the dog?

Or peace between the rich and the poor?*

19Wild donkeys of the desert are lion’s prey;

likewise the poor are feeding grounds for the rich.

20Humility is an abomination to the proud;

and the poor are an abomination to the rich.

21When the rich stumble they are supported by friends;

when the poor trip they are pushed down by friends.

22When the rich speak they have many supporters;

though what they say is repugnant, it wins approval.

When the poor speak people say, “Come, come, speak up!”

though they are talking sense, they get no hearing.

23When the rich speak all are silent,

their wisdom people extol to the clouds.

When the poor speak people say: “Who is that?”

If they stumble, people knock them down.b

24Wealth is good where there is no sin;*

but poverty is evil by the standards of the proud.

25The heart changes one’s face,

either for good or for evil.c

26The sign of a good heart is a radiant face;

withdrawn and perplexed is the toiling schemer.

* [13:114:2] By means of various images, most of them unfavorable to the rich, Ben Sira indicates the practical impossibility of genuine and sincere companionship between the poor and the rich. He lays down a principle of associating with equals (13:619).

† [13:13] Other ancient texts read as v. 14:

If you hear these things in your sleep, wake up!

With your whole life, love the Lord

and call on him for your salvation.

* [13:18] The hostility between the dogs which guard the flocks (Jb 30:1) and the rapacious hyenas (Jer 12:9) is proverbial in Palestine.

* [13:24] Ben Sira allows that the rich can be virtuous—but with difficulty; cf. 31:111.

a. [13:17] 2 Cor 6:1417.

b. [13:2123] Prv 14:20; 19:4, 7.

c. [13:25] Prv 15:13.

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