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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.

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