Monday, February 16, 2009

Singing About the “Woman of Valor”

Aishet Chayil, The Woman of Valor, which is traditionally sung at the Shabbat table on Friday nights, is actually a selection of verses from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31) written by King Solomon. It has been speculated that Solomon wrote these verses either as “provincial wisdom” on the ideal qualities of a wife, or as a tribute to his mother, Batsheva. Some commentaries have suggested that the verses of Aishet Chayil are descriptions of the Torah, Shabbat, and the soul, all of which have feminine names in Hebrew and thus assume some feminine attributes. As with all of the books of the Bible, Proverbs reflects a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and God.

The Midrash teaches that on the day of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai the Jewish nation was married to God, with the Torah serving as the ketubah (marriage contract). The Aishet Chayil section of Proverbs, therefore, can also be read as a description of the ideal Jewish nation-- prosperous, generous, beautiful, loyal and happily laboring for the fruits of the Torah.

A second marriage parable explains why Aishet Chayil is recited on Friday night (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 11): The Sabbath declared: “Master of the Universe, every day of the week has a partner except for me!” The Almighty answered: “The People of Israel will be your partner.”

While this is obviously meant to be symbolic, it represents the deeper understanding that the relationship of the Jewish people and God is a relationship of holiness, which is best celebrated on Shabbat, the day that is unique in its holiness.

Words of Aishet Chayil (English only):

Who can find a woman of valor? / Her worth is more precious than pearls.
His heart trusts in her / and lacks no treasure.
She does him good, never bad / all the days of her life.
She seeks out wool and linen / and her hands work willingly.
She is like a merchant’s ship / bringing her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet nighttime / and gives food to her household, the daily fare of her maidens.
She envisions a field and acquires it / from the fruit of her handiwork she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength / and invigorates her arms.
She tastes and sees that her business is good / and her lamp never goes out at night.
She sets her hands to the distaff / and her fingers work the spindle.
She spreads out her palm to the poor / her hands are stretched out to the needy.
She fears not snow for her household / for her whole house is dressed in scarlet.
She makes covers for herself / her clothing is linen and purple [wool].
Her husband is prominent in the gates / as he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes cloth and sells it / and delivers a belt to the merchant.
She is clothed in strength and splendor / she looks to the future cheerfully.
She opens her mouth in wisdom / and kindly teaching is on her tongue.
She oversees the activities of her household / and never eats the bread of idleness.
Her children rise to declare her happy / her husband praises her.
Many daughters have done well / but you surpassed them all.
Grace is false, beauty is fleeting / it is for her fear of God that a woman is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands / and her works shall praise her in the gates.


Twebrew School: Shabbat is brought to you on behalf of Shabbat Across America and Shabbat Across Canada, the only cross-continental celebration of Shabbat. The fourteenth annual SAA/C will take place on March 5, 2010. To learn more, click here.

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