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Eishet Chayil – Introduction

March 29, 2010
The complete Hebrew text of Pr. 31:10-32

The verses of this advice from Bathsheba to Solomon begin with the letters of the aleph-bet in order.

(Hebrew is read from right to left, so you will start reading the above verses from the top right.) This poem not only delineates the qualities of an eishet chayil, but the poetic forms and devices contribute to understanding (and adopting) the character of a virtuous, strong, courageous, valorous woman. These are the qualities of a woman suitable for a king’s wife — yet every woman should strive to exemplify these qualities in her own way.

The first word of each verse  begins with a sequential letter of the aleph-bet, using all 22 Hebrew letters, implying that this is an orderly, global, and complete list of the basic requirements for a wife. The anagrammatic form is one of many poetic devices used to give maximum impact in minimum space. The compactness of the form and the alphabetical order help a person to memorize and internalize important -even vital – Scriptural principles. This poem can be read on many levels or dimensions, including the literal, figurative, spiritual, and foundational.

Each Hebrew word has a variety of meanings depending on context, just as English words can often have a variety of meanings depending on context. (I spring from the bed, on the first morning of spring, to discover that a spring has popped loose in the box spring. With a spring in my step, I walk to the spring in the wood, considering how I can spring for a new mattress.)

Even the individual Hebrew letters have meanings of their own that can either illuminate our understanding of the word and its concepts and relationships, or at least provide us with mnemonic devices to help us remember the words, the verses, and the concepts.

In subsequent posts, we will explore each of the 22 verses in detail, looking at what chayil means, how chayil applies to a woman’s life, and how the understanding of a Scriptural eishet chayil affects the relationship between a husband and a wife. We will even see how the presence of the eishet chayil impacts a whole society.

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