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What Is A Valiant Woman?

Published on Wednesday January 8th, 2020

Every Friday evening, at the time of the Shabbat meal, the head of the family sings a song about unprecedented beauty, in order to praise the efforts provided by the hostess, the Jewish woman: that of Eshet Chayil or the valiant woman. But where does this song come from and what does it mean? What praises do they offer us and what instructions do they give us about the role of the Jewish woman in the home?

Written by King Solomon in honor of his mother Batsheva, the song Eshet Chayil appears in the book of Proverbs, chapter 31. It contains 22 verses; one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Let us go through each verse and try to extract the meaning, as well as examine the depth that they contain.

"Happy is he who met a valiant woman! She is infinitely more precious than pearls."

In Hebrew, an Eshet Chayil, a valiant woman, possesses unique strength. Indeed, the word Chayil comes from the word Chayal, which means soldier, and which literally means strength. Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller states that a brave woman is equally aware of the wealth that she generates and the abundance that she receives. Indeed, as the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (the maxims of our fathers) states: "Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has''.

"The heart of her husband has full confidence in her; also, he lacks no resources.

Here we see an essential character trait: trust. But the verse deals not with intellectual confidence, but rather with emotional trust, since it is much easier to trust someone through the heart. The husband of an Eshet Chayil knows full well that his wife has the best intentions for him and his home. The resources mentioned in the verse allude to the crucial influence women have on their homes. Every act and gesture can have an impact. It's up to us to calculate which one to use to benefit our homes!

"Every day of her life, she works for his happiness: she never causes him pain."

Our society today immensely values ​​the concept of reciprocity in interpersonal relationships. Give me and I will then give you. This verse says the opposite. Indeed, it tells us that giving selflessly is the greatest form of love that exists. Since by giving, we receive on the spot. The more we give without waiting for anything in return, the more the other party is likely to give us in return, and perhaps even more than what we gave.

"She gets wool and linen and does her work diligently." We note here that the verse mentions two types of materials that the Torah forbids to mix together when making a garment: wool and linen. Rebbetzin Heller offers a magnificent explanation. Linen and wool both hold distinct energies, which is an essential trait for an Eshet Chayil: to be able to distinguish people's energies, and to channel them. In addition, linen symbolizes Gevurah (rigor), while wool symbolizes' Chessed (goodness). One of the primary functions of a valiant woman is to juggle between these two attributes and to apply them to everyone proportionally.

"Like the merchant ships, she brings her provisions from afar."             

What is so exceptional about bringing her supplies from afar? The body is not alone in needing provisions; the soul also needs provisions. And the soul is very often influenced by foreign and external concepts. The insight of the valiant woman lies in her ability to distinguish between food and poison, between purity and impurity.

"She rises whilst it is still dark, distributing food to her house, and rations to her maids."          

Literally, the fact that a woman is up early or sleeps a little is the example that she shows to her family. She is responsible for ensuring that everyone has what they need. A deeper explanation is that night symbolizes Galut (exile). In exile and during difficult times, Emuna, unshakeable trust in G-d, keeps the family strong.

"She sets her sights on a field and acquires it; with the fruits of her work, she plants a vineyard."            

The deep meaning of this verse is that a valiant woman uses all her strengths and resources. She does not lose sight of her priorities; although she is involved with the outside world, she puts her role as mother and housewife on a pedestal.

"She girds her loins with strength and invigorates her arms."             

The monotony of the woman's housework can lead to a feeling of weakness or exasperation. But in order to combat this loss of energy, a woman must be armed with strength and courage and realize that these seemingly mundane tasks are of great sanctity and that in carrying them out she is obeying the divine will.

"She makes sure that her business is prosperous; her lamp does not go out at night."

The English translation of this verse is incorrect. It is not a lamp, but a candle that is evoked in the original Hebrew text. The Torah compares a woman to the wick, and the man to the flame. Although the flame is the one that offers the light, the wick is the one that holds it and that equips it with material so that it can burn. The wick of an Eshet Chayil is the one who nourishes the light of her husband's Torah and her virtuous actions, even at night, during darker moments. Here lies the secret of prosperity within a couple.

"Her hands grab the spinning wheel; her fingers wield the spindle."

The art of spinning that is discussed in this verse is also the art of separating. Separate between various materials in order to collect them later. Women excel in separating and then building stronger bonds with family members. The concept of Taharat Hamishpacha (family purity) is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

"She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out to the needy."

This verse explains that the woman does not use only what she has for herself, but also for others. Her tendency to always have an outstretched hand is an exemplary quality of a valiant woman.

"She does not dread the snow for her house, for her entire household are clothed with scarlet wool.'

On the surface, this verse refers to the fact that the woman gives everyone what they need. A deeper explanation is that snow refers to Gehinnom (hell). There are two types of Gehinnom: that of fire and that of snow. The Gehinnom of the snow symbolizes the coldness and inability to move forward; to be paralyzed by the circumstances that arise. This state can be created of our own free will, and can greatly limit us. This means that the woman will not let anyone in her home be paralyzed; she will find the tools to allow everyone to fulfill their potential.

"Luxurious bedspreads she embroiders. Fine linen and purple wool are her clothes."

This verse refers to a woman's concern for beauty, especially in the intimacy between husband and wife. By embellishing everything, she enhances the atmosphere of her home and of her marital relationship.

"Her husband is considered at the gates, when he sits with the elders of the country."

This verse states that the strength of the husband is instilled by his wife. His confidence in himself is first and foremost present since his wife values ​​and esteems him. A deeper explanation is that Shearim (the gates) are a parable for purity and impurity. Why is this so? The primary function of a door is to filter between good and evil. Impurity is a form of blockage, while purity represents a flow that continues to flow. The husband is the master of this art of filtration, and it is thanks to the help of his wife that he succeeds.

"She makes fabrics, sells them, and belts, which she sells to the merchants."

This verse affirms that women, despite the limited resources available to them, always find a way to manage with what they have and not to waste anything.

"Dressed with strength and dignity, she thinks of the future with a smile."

Oz (strength) and Hadar (dignity or glory), the two types of "clothing" she wears, are the two types of accoutrements of an Eshet Chayil. The role of clothing is to feel less vulnerable; recalling the sin of Adam and Chava, when they were forced to dress as a consequence of their sin. A garment reflects what we want to project to others. When a woman "smiles" when she thinks of the future, it alludes to the fact that she knows that everything is in the hands of G-d and that everything is for our good. Even when our human brain perceives things negatively, the woman is aware that on the last day, when everything will be clear, she will laugh, since she will know that divine justice was perfect from the beginning.

"She opens her mouth wisely, and a lesson of kindness is on her lips".

The fact that a valiant woman possesses wisdom signifies that her mouth is the place where she harmonizes between spirituality and materiality. Talmudic wisdom means seeing the good in every person, even if the latter is not yet perfect. Scrutinizing each person's potential is one of the qualities of an Eshet Chayil.

"She wisely directs the ways of her household, and she never eats the bread of idleness."

This woman who manages to juggle Torah, Chesed and Emuna, will manage her home with both strength and gentleness. The second part of the verse refers to the "bread of idleness". According to Halacha, bread must be made from at least one of the following five seeds: wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. Wheat is the most commonly used seed. According to the Talmud, wheat symbolizes the intellect, since one can detect a child's intellect from the moment he is able to digest wheat. The valiant woman does not eat the bread of idleness in the sense that she does not try to make wisdom through laziness. She does not invent truths to validate her claims.

"Her sons arise and praise her, her husband to laud her."             

The investment she has made in the education of her children will be returned when they will praise and respect her. Her will, will be theirs, and that of her husband too.

"Many women have shown themselves valiant, you are superior to them all!"

For her husband and children, no one surpasses her. She is crucial to everyone around her.

"False is grace! Vain is beauty! The woman who fears G-d is worthy of praise."

Grace is false when it is described in terms referring to materiality and physical appearance. But true grace is that which emanates from the soul. Additionally, true grace is when one has the capacity to absorb the divine light. When one becomes a Keli (vessel) for G-d, grace is visible. Fear of heaven is also an integral part of this grace.

"Give her the fruits of her hand, and at the gates her works speak her praise!"

The fruits symbolize action. G-d commanded the trees to bear fruit, something they did not obey. In Eshet Chayil, there is no inconstancy between thought and action.

In short, an Eshet Chayil is a woman of inestimable value, more precious than a pearl. Her spirituality is reflected in her actions, and her strength is unparalleled. Every woman has the ability to be one, and express it in her own way. The ideal woman resides in all of us, ladies!

Liora CHARTOUNI - © Torah-Box

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