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October 11, 2012

Apologies to all of you much appreciated commenters! This site has been effectively on hold while I tend to another project!

The Hebrew Torah Reading Team at the Synagogue without Walls has taken all of my spare time for the past year or two. We started, shortly after the appearance of these blogs, reading the Torah in Hebrew in the annual cycle of reading through the Torah.

To read the Torah in Hebrew, we had to learn to read Hebrew, and to teach other people to read Hebrew.  We have been teaching and practicing for about 30 hours a week for the past year. Of course not everyone commits to that outrageous time expenditure!  But for all of us who have committed between one and thirty hours a week, it has been well worth the investment.

The benefits? We are all learning to read Scripture in the original language.  We are learning to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We are developing close friendships with people who share our vision. We are taking part in the plan to restore Hebrew as a pure language.  We are taking part in the plan to restore Scripture to the hearts and minds of all who seek to know the One True Elevated One, the Creator of All.

If you have enjoyed these fragments of thoughts on learning Hebrew through the Eishet Chayil, you will enjoy – even more – the journey through the Hebrew Torah.

I encourage you to listen to our readings on the web page and check out our google site .

If you would like to learn to read Hebrew, and join us in reading through the Torah in its original language, fill out the form on the first page, and I will contact you for classes and reading schedules to work with your needs.



Eishet Chayil – Verse 8

August 26, 2010

There are periods in the history of mankind that we get a bit out of balance.  Our ideals become twisted, and then we try to fit normal people into these contorted imaginary shapes.  (Think about high heeled pointy-toed shoes or hour-glass corsets.)  One of these twists involves the exaltation of a person or an entire gender or class or caste to the status of at least demi-g-ds.  Amazingly, these idols who are put on pedestals for admiration or worship are effectively physically, emotionally, and spiritually crippled by all the attention and rules imposed on them.  In the 1860’s American women were idealized and idolized with very high expectations of their purity, but very little expectation of their emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual strengths and needs. At the same time, on another continent, Chinese women were hated and loved, and were actually crippled by the idealization that demanded that their feet be bound to remain the size of a five year-old child’s. Centuries earlier, the mandarin Chinese ruling caste was overthrown by the idealization of leisure and current ideas of beauty. For years, they had allowed their fingernails to grow – to the point that they could no longer use their hands for any useful work. When the peasants grew tired of the petulance of the “ruling class,”  the rulers were easily overthrown.

The Eishet Chayil withstands the efforts to cripple her by unrealistic expectations. The Almighty saw fit to give her a brain, and she uses it.  He gave her a body, and she strengthens it for health and for useful work. He gave her a desire for beauty, and she uses it to beautify the mitzvot (commands). If something should be done, it should be done beautifully.

This is the eighth verse of the Eishet Chayil passage, and it begins with the eighth letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, kheit. Kheit has a numerical value of eight, and it pictures a gate. A gate is double sided – it is the passage point of a boundary used to keep residents in, and intruders out. Many will not agree that kheit is a cognate of the English word hate, but it is much like hate.  Hatred is not useless unless it is senseless or baseless hatred. We think of hatred as sin, and as a weight to be cast off.  But, Amelia Bedelia*, when we say “Cast out the anchor,” we do not mean discard it, but implement it! Even hatred has its purposes – if we hate sin, unrighteousness, iniquity (in-equity), then we can better love not only the victims of crime or injustice, but even the perpetrators of evil.  To do this, it takes strength: the strength that we wrap around us that comes from a source outside of ourselves, and the strength that grows from within, that develops with use.  The first word of this verse is khagrahkhet gimel resh hey. The picture of khet is a gate, the gimel is a picture of a camel, known for its usefulness and generosity, resh is a head and hey is a window or a breath.  The root word is khet gimel resh, meaning to girdle, encircle, or enwrap. Just as a weightlifter girds himself with strength, or a weightlifters belt, and a soldier protects his vital parts with armor, so we have to encircle ourselves with strength and protection.  In the Christian writings, Ephesians, it is said that the particular source for this strength and protection is truth. The overarching idea that I find here is that of restraint, thought, and discernment – even generosity must respect boundaries and gates. The first two letters, khet and gimel together form the word khug – encircle or hug. A good sound cognate for the English word hug! The second word, b’oze, with strength, starts with the letter beit, a prefix meaning in or with, followed by the root word ayin vav zayin. This strength is not just brute strength, but as the letters show, ayin meaning eyes, vav a nail or joiner, and zayin a dagger, it is the strength of watchfulness and preparedness – guarding with a weapon. Matneyha, mem tav nun yod hey — mem itself symbolizes waters or memory, tav symbolizes a seal or signature, nun is a picture of a fish, and symbolizes life, as in lively as a fish, and hey is a window or breath. The root form of the word matneyha is the word moten, mem tav nun, which means waist or small of the back in the singular, but with the yod suffix, it becomes plural, and the word comes to mean thighs.  (It is closely related to matan and natan which mean gift.) The hey is a feminine possessive suffix. She girds her loins (thighs) with strength. Vat’ametz, vav tav aleph mem tzaddi –the vav is the conjunctive prefix, the tav is a feminine subject prefix, and the aleph mem tzaddi form the root, meaning strength. An aleph symbolizes might, mem symbolizes water or memory, and the tzaddi stands for a hook and for righteousness.  Zeroteiha, zayin resh ayin vav tav yod hey, is her arm. The root is zayin resh ayin, zara sowing seed. With the addition of the vav it becomes zeroah, arm. (One of the prime uses of the arm is for sowing seed!) The yod is a suffix of duality or plurality, and the hey is a feminine possessive suffix. So the Eishet Chayil is not strengthening only her right arm, but both of them, important for balance in life!

*Amelia Bedelia is a character in children’s literature who is extremely literal in her interpretation of all instructions given by her employers.  It is a delightful story to read with children who are learning language skills.

Eishet Chayil – Verse 7

August 25, 2010

She considers a field

For me, this is the most important verse of the Eishet Chayil.  When I was a very young woman, the current religious teaching was one of submission approaching subjection.  Popular books encouraged perfectly intelligent women to abandon their brainpower and lean on their poor spouses (who had also been taught that subjugation was the manly way on one hand or the righteous manly way on the other).  He was expected to make every decision for her from the time she opened eyes in the morning to the last blink at night. “I just don’t know, I will have to ask my husband” we would helplessly intone to anyone asking for a decision on anything.

Not the Eishet Chayil.  She is neither an impulse buyer, nor a shop-aholic.  She considers a field (not a dress, not a piece of blingy jewelry, not the hottest new chariot) and buys it.  There is no mention of a family consultation here.  Why not??  Isn’t that just courtesy??  There are several reasons for this.  The reasons are in almost every verse of this selection. Pr.31:11,12,13,15,16,18,19,24,25,26,27,30 and 31. Her husband safely trusts in her.  She is not idly contemplating how to spend his hard-earned money. . . We will learn more on this story as we work through the passage.

This is the seventh verse of the Eishet Chayil passage, so it begins with the seventh letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet, Zayin. Zam’ma is from the verb root zamam, which means to purpose, so she is eyeing the field, not idly, but with a plan, a purpose, an intention in mind. Sawdeh is a field.  There is an English cognate: sod from a grassy field.  It is also related to the Hebrew word sode, which is a base or basis. Vatikawkehu, and she takes it. The vav is the conjunctive prefix, tav is a feminine subject prefix, which replaces the first letter of the verb root, lekak.  This verb is also used to describe a husband “taking” a wife.  It does not at all imply thievery or thuggery.  It means to accept responsibility for, more than just owning.  Mipri The mem prefix means from or of, and pri means fruit.  There is a cognate in English, one of the finest of fruits, the pear. Berry is not far fetched as a cognate either. Khapeiha The root word is kaph, and means the palm of the hand.  The fruit of her hands is another way of saying what she has earned by her diligence and skill. From, or of, her own skills and diligence she plants a vineyard. Natah, nun tet ayin hey. Nun is a picture of life, tet is a picture of a womb, ayin is a picture of the eyes, and hey is the feminine suffix, which pictures a window or breath of air. What a letter-perfect picture of planting.  In the seed is life, which is hidden away in the earth, as in a womb, nourished and grown, then revealed to the eyes and the fresh air. Kerem, kaph resh mem, is a vineyard.  The letter-picture is of an open hand, the head, and water.  The proffered gift of the vineyard is a heady water!

Eishet Chayil – Verse 6

July 31, 2010

Verse 6 starts out with the conjunctive prefix, the letter vav, the sixth letter of the alef-bet. Vatakam (And she rises) b’od lahylah (while it is yet night,) vatiten (and she gives) teref, (food, – but literally- prey,) l’beitah (to her household) v’khoq (and instructs) l’na’aroteyha (her young women).

We have sung the song, “Kumbaya.”  We probably learned that it was African and meant “Come by here.” If it is Hebrew -as I believe it is – it means kum (arise), ba (come), Yah (A shortened form of the Tetragrammaton, the four letter name of the Almighty).  It is quite possible that this is a part of an African language, just as many Hebrew words are a part of our English language.  But we know that kum means arise, just as it is used in this verse.  We even see a form of this word in the Christian writings (Mk. 5:41): Talitha cumi (Aramaic, for “Damsel, arise!”).

This verse reveals the character of the virtuous, strong woman leads her to courage, industriousness, boldness, and compassion: While it is yet night – a time of fear, or sorrow, or a time when Scripture is not widely read and observed, she is not cowering, not waiting for help from someone else. She boldly arises and gives food (or prey!) to her household, and instructs her young women. She is not just teaching the skills and customs of housewives. The word khoq actually refers to the statutes: rules from Scripture, particularly those that cannot be deduced by common sense.  Another surprise -the Jewish housemistress, the Eishet Chayil, is a Torah scholar! She is capable of doing and teaching household principles and common sense traditions, but she is imparting Scriptural wisdom to her young women.  Which brings up another question: These young women – referred to as hers – are they daughters, hired helpers, servants, or slaves?  Whoever they are, they are deemed worthy to receive instruction in Torah, and not only in the moral laws, but also in the statutes or decrees that we hear and obey even if they don’t make sense to us. This passage speaks to us of the elevated position of women and girls in Hebrew culture at this time.  They were not expected to be brutes or beasts of burden, but even thousands of years ago, in the time of Solomon, they were to receive, and even give, instruction in the chukot of Scripture.  Need I point out that this implies a widespread ability to read Scripture – that which is written?  The women were expected to be literate and learned.

This is a revealing portrait of the ideal woman and the wisdom of her culture.  She is no imperious mistress of the household, but prepares what has been taken (in hunting, fishing, marketing) and prepares it for her household. Neither is she a timid soul.  The word teref leads to some interesting questions.  Does she do the hunting and fishing herself?  Does she do the actual slaughter and cleaning?  Does she do the cooking, or does she just prepare for her maidens to cook? Whatever the answers are, from time to time, family to family, culture to culture, she is clearly industriously involved in the process.  I would love to hear others’ thoughts about why the word teref is used here, and what the meaning might be.

Eishet Chayil – verse five

May 26, 2010

The first letter of this verse is the letter hey, which has a numerical value of  five. Five is known as the number of grace, and hey stands for a window.  A window at the same time lets in a breath of fresh air and limits, frames, and defines a point of view.  The first word bears a strong resemblance to the tetragrammaton, the four letter name of the Almighty.  The two words do share a common root, to be. This four letter word uses the suffix letters tav and hey to indicate that the subject is feminine.  Simply, the first word, haytah, means she is.

The next word begins with the prefix caph, which means like or as. The word  aniyot is the plural form of the word ani, which means I, ship, or mourning!  The first time the plural form is used in the Bible is in Genesis 49:3, in the blessing/prophecy about Zebulun living by the coasts, by the coasts of the ships in Tsidon.  I is the first person singular subjective pronoun, which in Hebrew can be ani (alef nun yod), anoki (alef nun vav kaph yod), or simply the letter-prefix alef.  In Hebrew, even when words only share similar sounds, they often have related meanings, but something even more interesting to ponder is going on here with ani (I), ani (ship), and ani (mourning).  The same combination of letters, in the same order, produces different meanings in different contexts, just as water (H2O) is sometimes a liquid, sometimes a solid, and sometimes a vapor, while retaining its same chemical “spelling” of H2O. The Hebrews were not well known in history as great adventurous seafarers or traders, as their near neighbors the Phoenicians were, at least until the time of Solomon, and up to that point, family connections had been unusually strong, so it could be that there is an even closer connection between mourning and ships for them, a connection that we can understand.  Ships take our loved ones away from us for long and often dangerous trips.  Ships disrupt family life.  Of course, this passage emphasizes the great advantage of foreign trade, especially for the transport of foods, but danger is also implicit in the verse.

Sokher (samekh, vav, khet, resh) means to trade.  This verse not only stresses the strength — the adventurous sense — of the Eishet Chayil but  also introduces the Eishet Chayil as a woman of means and a woman of business acumen.

Mimerchaq (mem, mem, resh, khet, quf) from afar. The first mem is a prefix letter, meaning from. The second mem is another prefix letter, emphasizing distance.  The root word, r’khoq, means distance.

Tawvee, (Tav, vet, yod, alef). The tav is a prefix, meaning she.  The vet, yod alef is another form of the verb bo (bet, vav, alef), which means to come. In this case, it means to cause to come, or to bringshe brings.

Lahkmah (lamed, khet, mem, hey) has a suffix hey at the end of the word, meaning her.  The lekhem part means specifically bread but refers to all food: her bread or her food.

Sometimes we valorous women must undertake strenuous, adventurous, and even dangerous trips in order to care for and nourish our families. Occasionally we must face sorrow and mourning to do what is right.  We cannot be dissuaded from doing what is best for our families by fears and worries.

But the sense of adventure should not be overlooked either.  Yes, there can be trepidation associated with foreign adventures, but there is excitement too in the tastes of exotic places.  Often we improve our nutrition when we prepare foods from other lands.  Mealtimes can be greatly improved with homegrown foods and with exotic foods.  It doesn’t hurt either, to enjoy ethnic foods with clothing, decor, and words from another culture to enhance food and learning.

Eishet Chayil – verse four

April 25, 2010
Proverbs 31:13

She seeks wool and linen (flax) and her hands work with delight

Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alef-bet.  It has a numerical value of four, and it represents a door. I think we get our English word delete from dalet.  If we want to delete something, we figuratively toss it out the door! We go in and out through the doors of our lives, seeking opportunities. (Opportunities is the way we like to translate the Hebrew word mitzvot. While the common translation is commandments, we see each of them as a blessing to be taken hold of rather than a command to be grudgingly obeyed.  All of the commandments are blessings.  Opportunities are facing the open door — the Latin words are op [the first letters of the Latin word for eye, the first letters in opposition, the first letters in open] and port – door, gate, or harbor.  The suffix is probably from unus- one).

The word darsha (dalet-resh-shin-hey) comes from the Hebrew word derash (seek), with a hey suffix, meaning she.  Dalet-resh-shin is active searching.  A midrash is the presentation of  a search for meaning, and it holds the same place in Jewish worship services as a Christian sermon.  Whereas the sermon has a connotation of a discourse or lecture, indicating a passive audience of entertaining, enlightening, or boring material, a midrash is an invitation to actively join and participate in the search for understanding.  The Eishet Chayil actively seeks the material she needs to do her work.

Tzemer (tzaddi-mem-resh) wool, also means an outer or upper covering, as in the wooly coat of a sheep or a person, a tent or a tree-top. It is related to words for plucking, pruning, cutting, protecting, guarding, or covering. A closely related sound-alike word zemer, means to pluck, to play, or to sing.  First the wool is plucked, cut, or shorn from the sheep, combed, carded, then spun, woven, or knitted, cut and sewn. The spinning wheel hums as a spinner draws fibers out and spins them into yarn or thread. Knitting and weaving are rhythmic processes that  turn thread or yarn into fabric.  The whole effect is as musical as an operetta.  The process can be drudgery without a song, or can be a delight as one works designs in music and in fabric.  Our Father not only wants us to be able to make a living and get the exercise we need by doing the work that needs to be done, He wants us to find joy and delight in our work.

Uphishtim (vav-phe-shin-tav-yod-mem) The first letter, vav, is the Hebrew conjunction. The three letter root, (phe-shin-tav) pashat means plain, spread out, fanned out, – or – plucked.  It refers to flax which is plucked, and spread to dry. The fibers are then pulled from the stalks, then spun and woven into fabric.   Rakhav (Rahab) the innkeeper (some translations make unsavory intimations about certain aspects of her profession) hid the Hebrew tourists, or spies in the stacks of flax on her rooftop.  Rakhav is a good example of en Eishet Chayil, for her diligence in business, for her courage in hiding the aturim (often rendered spies), for her understanding that the aturim were from an elohimly nation, and for her determination to protect her family during the coming attack.

Wool is a fabric of warmth.  It makes excellent outer coverings, and sheds water.  Linen is a better fabric for inner garments.  It is smooth and soft, and it absorbs and wicks moisture away from the skin.  What a wonderful picture of Our Heavenly Father’s care for the tiniest details of our lives! Not only does He want us to be warm and protected from the elements, he also wants us cool, and dry, and protected from ourselves – from perspiration and itchiness! He wants the roughness toward the exterior, and the smoothness toward our skins.  It is funny, but the coarser, rougher fabric requires a gentler treatment than the smoother, finer fabric.  We wash our wools in cool water, let them air dry on flat racks, and if any pressing is required, we do it with a relatively cool iron. Our linens, however, are usually washed in hot water, and pressed with a hot iron. The righteous ones often receive stricter treatment that the worldly. Now judgment begins with the household of Elohim.

Vata’as (vav-tav-ayin-shin) Vav is the Hebrew conjunctive prefix. The tav is a prefix indicating that the subject of the sentence is female. The ayinshin is the root word, meaning to do, work, or make.

Bekhefetz (bet-khet-phe-tzaddi) The bet is the second letter of the alef-bet, and here it is used as a prefix, meaning with. Khet Phe Tzaddi form the root word, meaning delight or pleasure. Pleasure is not as the world seems to think, a passive reaction to circumstances, but it is really the response that we can choose to make in and to every circumstance.  The Eishet Chayil is choosing to work with pleasure and delight, rather than with whining, grumbling, murmuring, or complaining.  She is choosing to beautify the mitzvot.  What must be done must be done, so it may as well be made beautiful.  If she must clother her family, why not clothe them warmly in the winter, cooly in the summer, and beautifully, whatever the weather!  And she delights in the process as well.

Kapeyha (kaphpeyyodhey) The kaph is the cup – the open palm of the hand. (It can also refer to the sole of the foot.)  Whereas the yod is an active, working, grasping hand, the kaph indicates receptivity; more an active readiness to receive than simply passive acceptance. The work that a woman does often involves preparing to receive.  A close Eishet Chayil friend of mine went into business for herself.  After studying tax laws, public relations, and her specific field of endeavor, she got her tax number, and set up her business with all of the proper licenses and permits, and then immediately opened a business account.  She had to get ready to receive all of her clients, do all of her work, pay all of her bills, AND she would need an account for the money that would have to flow through her business.  She had to have her cup ready to overflow.

Eishet Chayil – verse three

April 5, 2010
Eishet Chayil - verse three

She bestows good upon him, not bad, all the days of her life.

The third verse of the Eishet Chayil begins with the letter gimel, which means camel, and is used to stand for great generosity, possibly because the camel is known for the care she gives her calf and for the many benefits she gives to her owners, such as transportation of people and goods, and her usefulness from hair to hide for coverings.  This comparison to a camel is not to imply that a woman has no more value than gems or pets or pack animals, but the comparisons and contrasts of this poem imply that an eishet chayil is superior to any thing that people value.

The word gamalat-hu (gimelmemlamedtavheyvav) is formed by the word gamal (from the letter gimel) with a suffix showing the object of her generosity, him. Another interesting point about the use of the word gamal is that it is sometimes translated suckle and at other times quiet or wean, all interactions between a mother and her child. Occasionally, a woman does “mother” her husband, just as there are times when a husband’s care for his wife can be almost paternal.

Tov (tet-vav-bet) means good. Interestingly enough, tov does not begin with the letter tav, as we might expect from earlier examples of word and letter similarities.  Instead, it begins with the letter tet, which often stands for a coiled serpent.  In this particular case, however, the other meaning of tet is particularly apt because the other meaning of the letter picture is that of a pregnant belly.  As a serpent coils around its clutch of eggs, protecting them from predators, so a woman’s pregnant belly protects the second greatest gift a woman has for her husband: their child.  The letter vav can be a nail or a man, and bet, as we have seen, means house or household. As Leah proclaimed with the naming of her son Levi, “This one will cause my husband to cleave to me” (Gen. 29:34). And so, it is expected that a pregnancy will join a household together. Although pregnancy and children are to be desired, a child is a gift from the Almighty, and marriages yet without children are still open for blessings of all sorts from the Most High.

V’lo (vav-lamed-vav) The vav prefix is the Hebrew conjunction. Lo is an interesting word formation, using the same letters as the short title for the Creator: El (spelled aleph-lamed), but turned around backwards. Alef-lamed is the same word and sound that is a part of our English words el, elevator, and elevation, meaning lifting up. But backwards, we have lamed-alef: learning one. One of the first words an English-speaking child learns is NO! This is the beginning of a child’s internalizing boundaries.  Many of the Ten Words Begin with lamed-alef. All except one of these commands contain the word lo. These lo‘s bear the strength of the Almighty himself in their teaching of what is not allowed – for the safety and well being of the individual and society.

Ra (resh-ayin) This word, evil or bad, is composed of the letters resh (head) and ayin (eyes). When the head is led by the eyes, rather than by the intellect and the spirit, the result is likely to be evil. This word for evil is the name of an Egyptian idol. The command to wear tzitzit is so that we will not stray after our eyes (Num. 15:37-39).

Kol (kaph-lamed) A kaph is an open and extended hand, showing the palm, here a calling or collecting gesture, and lamed, as we have seen earlier, stands for learning.  These letters have the sound of calling together, collecting, and college (a gathering together for learning).  Kol means all.

Y’mei (yod-mem-yod) Yod is an active, accomplishing hand. Mem is the beginning of our English word memory, and has the additional meaning of waters.   Yod-mem, depending on the vowels, can form the word yam (meaning sea) or yom (meaning day). The final yod is a way of indicating a plural. Yod-mem-yod, then, means days.

Khayeyha (kheityodyodhey) The kheit looks like – and stands for – a gate, the yod‘s are two active hands, and hey means breath, wind, or spirit. What a picture of life: an open gate for choices, two active hands, and the spirit!  (The short word for life is kheit-yod, and the common word translated life is khayim, or lives. The final yod is another way of indicating plural. Hebrew is well known for its tendency to use plural forms where English would use a singular form.  Some of these words are elohim, a plural form used to indicate the Mighty One of Israel; panim for face; mayim and shamayim for water(s) and heaven(s) or sky; and khayim or khayey for life.  One explanation of this phenomenon could be that all of these words denote something quite complex.  We may speak of one Elohim, but He has many characteristics.  Or we may have one face with many expressions, or with characteristic features of several different ancestors. Water and heaven can be seen as one molecule, or as the vast expanses of ocean and atmosphere. One life may be seen as many lives in the sense that we may have met diverse goals or that there may have been different stages of our lives. I also think of the plural forms of singular nouns as showing either greatness, or one who represents or unifies many (Queen Victoria representing all of her subjects, but she wasn’t three or seventy thousand). The final hey is a suffix meaning her.

An eishet chayil seeks ways that she, her courage, her strength, and her industry can bless her husband and her family in, through, and by, her life.