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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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2010 10:47 pm

    I love the history references you put in as examples!

    • August 27, 2010 7:50 am

      I accidentally published this post on verse 8 before it was finished . . . I meant to save draft, and hit post instead! So now, it is corrected and lengthened, if not really finished!

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