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Eishet Chayil – verse two

April 2, 2010
Eishet Chayil, verse two, Proverbs 31:11

Eishet Chayil, verse two

Bet, beit, or beth, the second letter of the alef-bet, means house, within, with, or aean. The second verse of the ode to the wife, the lady of the house, begins with the word batakh (bet-tet-khet): trust. Bet has a numerical value of two.  Indeed, without two, there cannot be with.  This verse speaks of two dwelling together.  Trust and safety with each other is necessary for a marriage.  If either party is in a constant state of fear and tension, always afraid that the other will gamble or waste the family resources, will bring filth or degradation into the relationship, will commit violence, or will abandon the other, there would be a lack of batakh.  We need batakh, a sense that we can and will dwell safely and securely with each other and with our neighbors. Batakh frees us to do our best work.

Bah (bet-hey) simply means in her.

Lev (lamedbet) is the heart – the schoolhouse of the body – the place where we learn. In English, we speak of learning something by heart.  This is where our learning lives – where learning comes to active living.  The husband of an eishet chayil has learned to be secure in his relationship with his wife.  She will do him good and not evil, all the days of her life.

Baalah (betayinlamedhey) is a common word for husband.  This is the word and concept that sticks out to me like an onion in a petunia patch! We are most familiar with this word as the name of a pagan idol, and it is often translated as lord, or dominator; so to use this term to name a husband of a valorous woman seems a bit incongruous to me.  However, looking at the terms related to this word, it begins to make just a little more sense to me.  Baal can be a pagan dominator idol, a husband, or a master – as in master of a craft. Baalah can be a wife, a mistress of the house, or a mistress of a craft – including witchcraft or divination. Beulah means married. We see, then, the concept that most words, ideas, or matters can have either positive applications or negative applications. It is up to us to make the right decisions in our lives with all the circumstances that surround us.

V’shalal (vavshinlamedlamed) – another incongruity. Vav is the Hebrew conjunction (and, or, however -all of the English conjunctions would be translations of the letter vav.) Shalal is usually translated as spoils or booty, as in “spoils of war.”  In this verse, it is usually translated as rewards. But as often as the word shalal is translated as spoils, it brings up an incongruous image of a woman of war as the ideal woman or wife.

Lo (lamedalef) is simply a negative – no or not.

Yekhsar (yod-khet-samekh-resh) means he lacks.

So, her husband trusts in her, and does not lack for spoils, booty, or more acceptably, a reward.  For now, I will go with a simple reward for his trust in her and in her strength of character, but we will see where this passage will take us!

For now, we will remember that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of YHVH.” (Prov. 18:22).  “Houses and lands are the inheritance from the fathers, but from YHVH is a skillful wife.” (Prov. 19:14)

Eishet Chayil – verse one

March 30, 2010
Eishet Chayil verse 1

The first word of the first verse begins with the letter alef, a very good place to start!

What a question!  Who can find a valorous woman?! For the next 22 verses, we will look at the meaning of chayil as it applies to a woman.  Indeed, can one simply find a valorous woman?  Or, is a valorous woman nurtured and grown — or mined and polished?  Jewels are seldom just found lying on the ground with cut and polished faces.  They are more often mined – found deep beneath the surface.  They are not easily recognized even where they are mined.  The rough stones are usually brought up to the surface and closely examined for quality and potential. Then they are cut – to give them faces – facets – surfaces. Then the finest gems are polished and set. A fine jewel may become encrusted with grime, grease, or dirt if it is not properly cared for, but only a fool would dispose of a fine gem because of surface soil.  A soak, a polish, and the beauty is restored.  Even the setting, which only serves as a frame for the beauty of the gem, tends to increase in value with age – and tender care.  The woman, like the stone, should not be mistreated (more for the sake of the setting!), but she is strong and able to withstand the normal course and challenges of life. This is part of the value of most gemstones.  The settings, however, like small children surrounding her, can be easily marred or even destroyed by blows aimed at marring or destroying the jewel.

Unlike Torah, which starts with a beit, indicating that there is something going before that we are not privy to, this advice to a young man starts with the first letter of the alefbet, showing, perhaps, that this is advice from the very beginning! The word eishet is a combination form of isha, showing the connection between the isha and the chayil, the woman and her valor.

The verse begins with alef, the beginning, the source, of the alef-bet. It stands as a notice, as if to say, “Let’s start at the very beginning.”  And the very beginning puts the prince in the mindset that you don’t just pick up any woman.  You choose her very carefully.  You treat her very carefully.  You value her very highly.  You protect her and guard her from loss or theft or damage.  And you don’t throw her away in her old age.  Alef also has a numerical meaning of the number one.  Alef also signifies the presence and action of the Almighty: the Elevated One.  He is the Av (spelled alef-bet), the Father, the source, the spring. All good comes from Him.  The alef is traditionally associated with the ox, a strong, gentle, straight-forward servant and even a guide.  An ox naturally plows a straight furrow with little attention from the person at the plow handles. (The person comes in handy for making the turns and placing the next furrow.) But the alef could be even better represented by a cognate word in English: the elephant!  Like an ox, he is strong and steady, and willingly serves, but both animals, in their strength, can be very dangerous if enraged.  Both animals can be a good representation of the Almighty, the Elevated One.

Eishet comes from ishah (spelled alefshinhey), which comes from ish (spelled alefyodshin), which means man.  “And the man declared, ‘This one shall be called woman, for from man was she taken.'” (Gen. 2:23)  It was not by man’s hand, or yad, that she came, but the hand of the Almighty took her out of the man.  The word translated rib in the most common Bibles, is from the Hebrew word tselem, which can mean rib, but is more often used to indicate a whole side, a shadow, or an image.  Man was made in the image of Elohim, and the Ishah is the image or side of man.  She was intended to stand at his side and by his side.

Chayil is related to the words, chai, life, and chaim, lives, and the name Chavah, Hebrew for Eve, (the first woman) the mother of all living, all associated with life, life force. Chayil means force, army, host, strong, valorous, courageous, or even virtuous.  What a surprising way to define the ideal woman!  Especially if we take the old viewpoints of women being the weaker sex, the gentler gender, and the source of our earthly troubles.  We can look back through history and see that the status of women varied widely through the parade of years and cultures.  Women have been denigrated in arabic cultures, as being little better than pets, not even possessing a soul; in certain hellenic cultures as not having an independent intellect, and in many British and European cultures as not having physical strength, stamina, or courage. In some Christian cultures women were barred from owning property or making contracts.  In many cultures women are not allowed to serve as witnesses or on juries.  And yet any culture building its values on Scripture, especially informing its values by Proverbs 31: 10-31, would have to recognize not only the value of a virtuous (strong) woman, but also that such women are vital.  Virtue comes from the Latin word, virtus, not goody-goody, but strong.

The word translated here as jewels is rendered in some translations as rubies.  The word in Hebrew is meep’neeneem, that which has faces.  I am not sure why it would be translated specifically as rubies, but we can easily see why “those which have multiple faces” would be a good word for gems, as most gems are cut and polished with multiple faces, facets, or surfaces.  The bread (sometimes translated shewbread) in the temple is called bread of faces, lechem panim.  How could a woman be like (or better than) rubies or faceted gems?  A woman is not to be double-minded, but multi-faceted.  Just as the word chayil is multifaceted then, so is the eishet, the woman so described, a person of many dimensions, abilities, and strengths.

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.

Eishet Chayil – the inspiration

March 22, 2010

Today, I woke up with a sudden realization that an Eishet Chayil (Ay-shet Kha-yil) is not a wimp!  I am in training to become an Eishet Chayil, so I have to lay aside every hint of wimpiness! If I feel afraid, I must counter with courage.  If I feel lazy, I must counter with industry.  If I feel weak, I must counter with joy! If I feel discouraged, I must counter with Scripture!  I must not cower! I am commanded to be an overcomer — the head, and not the tail.  My feelings should be recognized, just as a roach on the floor should be recognized, but my feelings are only emotions, not my motivation.

Who – and what – is an Eishet Chayil?

Eishet can be translated from Hebrew to English as woman or wife.

Chayil can be translated as virtuous, valorous, strong, and courageous.

The Eishet Chayil is truly defined in Proverbs (Mishlei) 31:10-32.  This passage describes not only the ideal woman, but the ideal wife.  Eishet Chayil is also the song of praise and joy that a Jewish, Israeli, or Hebrew man sings to his wife at the sabbath dinner table.  If she is not yet an Eishet Chayil, this is his statement of hope and faith that she will grow into the role.  If she is achieving the role of an Eishet Chayil, she glows with pride and joy that her efforts are recognized and appreciated.  She is inspired each week to reach for the goal of actually earning the prized title.

Hello world!

March 22, 2010

The passage Proverbs 31:10-32 Describes the ideal woman - in surprising terms!

Welcome to the Eishet Chayil Blog on wordpress.com.  My passion is my faith life, which includes everything I think, say, and do; and as subsets of my faith life, my family, friends,  languages (English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Italian, Romaunt, and German), semantics, philology, etymology, emetology, literature, writing (fiction and nonfiction), photography, politics, gardening (mostly edible landscaping), teaching, Apple-computering, music, (I don’t play music; I play with music: recorders, psaltery, dulcimer, violin, singing, and dancing (folk dance, and ballroom dancing with my husband)). I expect all of these passions will find their way into the blog at one time or another.