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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #135 - 08/13
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Eli Dahan

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The woman of valor in Proverbs 31

Every Friday, just before we sit down to eat the Shabbat evening meal, either my father or I sing the passage from Proverbs 31 about the woman of valor, who is known in Hebrew as the “Eshet Chayil” - אֵשֶׁת-חַיִל.  In our last lesson for Course D I discussed this concept with two of my students, Jacky and Jeanette. I thought this week I would share with you, dear readers, our thoughts. The passage about the woman of valor ends the book of Proverbs, as written:

"מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן-דָּוִד- מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵללָדַעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר; לְהָבִין אִמְרֵי בִינָה. לָקַחַת מוּסַר הַשְׂכֵּל; צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט, וּמֵשָׁרִים.לָתֵת לִפְתָאיִם עָרְמָה; לְנַעַר דַּעַת וּמְזִמָּה"

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, King of Israel: To know wisdom and instructionTo discern the sayings of understanding,To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity;To give prudence to the naive,To the youth knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 1:1-4)

 

 

 

 

 Solomon This book of the Bible contains numerous instructions and a fair bit of advice for the young man, who can choose to take one of two directions in life: the way of the foolish, or the way of the wise should he listen to God. God is depicted as his teacher, instructing him to resist temptation and sin. The book describes the voice leading a man toward sin to be the voice of a woman. However, this book ends with a classical passage about a woman in which a man must ask himself if she's too good to be true or if she is a role model, the ideal woman.

Let's take a look at what exactly is written about this woman-

אֵשֶׁת-חַיִל מִי יִמְצָאוְרָחֹק מִפְּנִינִים מִכְרָהּ. בָּטַח בָּהּ לֵב בַּעְלָהּ; וְשָׁלָל לֹא יֶחְסָרגְּמָלַתְהוּ טוֹב וְלֹא-רָע  כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיהָדָּרְשָׁה צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּים; וַתַּעַשׂ בְּחֵפֶץ כַּפֶּיהָ. הָיְתָה כָּאֳנִיּוֹת סוֹחֵר; מִמֶּרְחָק תָּבִיא לַחְמָהּ."

An excellent wife, who can find?For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her,And he will have no lack of gain.She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.She is like merchant ships;She brings her food from afar."(Proverbs 31:10-14)

 

As I mentioned earlier, we can understand this passage in one of two ways: either there is no such woman like this excellent wife, this ideal "biblical wonder woman," or the passage in fact simply describes the highest ideal of a woman. This woman of valor might be a specific woman; the sages of Israel discussed this passage in relation to Solomon’s mother, Bath-Sheba. It might also be true for your wife. Other suggestions about this "too good to be true woman" are that this passage is a metaphor for Torah and wisdom. Some even suggest that this passage is an example eulogy that we might give a woman after she passes away.

When I asked Jacky and Jeanette if they knew a similar passage from the New Testament that speaks about women, they suggested the following:

"In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses…just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.(1 Peter 3:1-3,6)

"וְכֵן אַתֵּנָה הַנָּשִׁים הִכָּנַעְנָה לִפְנֵי בַעֲלֵיכֶן לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר־יִקָּנוּ בְּאֵין־אֹמֶר וּדְבָרִים עַל־יְדֵי מַעֲשֵׂי הַנָּשִׁים מִי שֶׁאֵינָם שֹׁמְעִים לַדָּבָר׃  בִּרְאוֹתָם כִּי תִצְנַעְנָה לֶכֶת בְּיִרְאָה וּפְאֵרְכֶן אַל־יְהִי מִבַּחוּץ בְּמַחְלְפוֹת שֵׂעָר וַעֲדִי זָהָב וּלְבִישַׁת מַחֲלָצוֹת... כְּשָׂרָה אֲשֶׁר שָׁמְעָה בְּקוֹל אַבְרָהָם וַתִּקְרָא־לוֹ אָדוֹן אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּן הֱיִיתֶן לָהּ לְבָנוֹת בַּעֲשׂוֹתְכֶן הַטּוֹב וְלֹא תִירֶאנָה מִפָּחַד"

In this passage from 1 Peter we can see some historical realities that existed in ancient times and in many places until the middle of the 20th century. If the woman in Proverbs 31 is the ideal one, the one that does everything according to the book and exceedingly well, then the woman here in New Testament is more humble, a woman that knows her (suggestively lower) place. This woman should be like Sarah, though that I must say that I disagree with the imagery in 1 Peter, since Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah (see Genesis 16:2), as opposed to Sarah only hearing the voice of Abraham.

I would like to suggest that the passage about the woman of valor should refer to every woman in the world, even if it seems too good to be true sometimes. When our hearts and souls are inspired, then the ideal must actually be the reality, right?

Happy New Year from Israel,

Eli Dahan

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

English

Transliteration

Hebrew

The women

hannāšîm

הַנָּשִׁים

Hair

Śē'ār

שֵׂעָר

Her husband

Ba'lāh

בַּעְלָהּ

King

melech

מֶלֶךְ

Fear

Yir'āh

יִרְאָה

The good

hattôv

הַטּוֹב

Sarah

Śārāh

שָׂרָה

 
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