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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.

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