You’ve probably heard Proverbs 31:10 translated as “the virtuous wife” or a “woman of virtue.” When we delve into the Hebrew words and the Jewish culture, history and tradition surrounding this passage, we realize that equating “virtue” with morality or a “morally sound” lifestyle can be like swallowing an appetizer and dubbing it the entree.
Connected with the Hebrew word chayil (khah’-yil) used to describe the person in Proverbs 31:10 are the concepts of valor, probably a force, whether of men, means or other resources. Concepts also include virtue, strength, might, efficiency, and bravery – especially in battle. This word is often translated “army” (56 times) or “valiant” or “man of valour” (50 times) when describing men. Chayil also carries the idea of excellency in all of every moral attribute.
In the Jewish tradition, Proverbs 31:10-31 is referred to as the Eshet Chayil, the concluding portion of the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs. The epilogue of this chapter praising “the wife of noble character,” it corresponds to 1:1-7 (the prologue) as it describes “a woman who fears the Lord.” Such a wife is almost a personification of wisdom. Like wisdom, she is “worth far more than rubies.”
Historically, it’s speculated that King Solomon wrote these verses or poem either as a listing of the ideal qualities of a wife, or as a tribute to his mother, Batsheva. The poem has an acrostic arrangement in which the verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order. Its 22 verses correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet.
In its cultural context, the Woman of Valor (or virtue) portion of Proverbs 31 is King Solomon’s song of praise to the Jewish woman. He extols her virtues as the foundation of the Jewish home. They include but are not limited to the concept of moral excellence. Also included are the concepts of strength, might, efficiency, and bravery in battle (more on this in an upcoming post). This woman is also capable and energetic. The “Woman of Valor hymn” is customarily sung or read on Friday nights at Shabbat tables:
“Eshet chayil mi yimtza v’rachok mip’ninim michrah”
An accomplished woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls.
So pull up a chair and dig in. When Jewish culture, history and traditions surrounding Proverbs 31 are understood, this passage – and the concepts it embodies – are as rich and as nourishing as a full-course meal.
Kristine, professional mom, blogger, author, homeschooler, humorist, and chief wrangler at the ‘ole “testosterone farm.”
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