June 11, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
June 11, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Insights Into Eshet Chayil (Proverbs 31:10-31)

Verse 10: “eshet chayil mi yimtza?” These four words imply that it is hard to find a woman of valor. Yet at verse 29 we have “rabot banot asu chayil”=many women have done valiantly. Since we have precisely the same word, חיל, at verse 29, there is a bit of a contradiction here.  Of course, verse 29 ends: “you surpass them all.” But this does not avoid the contradiction. The explanation must be that “asu chayil” is not enough to be considered an all-around “eshet chayil,” a higher level.

It is also of interest that at 20:6 our book has: “ve-ish emunim (=a faithful man) mi yimtza?”

“Rachok mi-peninim micrah”: Her mecher is far above corals (or rubies or pearls).  מכרה here must mean something like “her value.” I.e., her value (after you find her), if you would ever try to sell her.

Verse 11: “ve-shalal lo yechsar”= Her husband will not lack  שלל. This is a very unusual choice of word. This word appears 75 times in Tanach. Usually it means something like “booty” (e.g., from war). The 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation is bland: “he hath no lack of gain.” ArtScroll is a bit of an improvement:  “he shall lack no fortune.” Rashi offered: “lo yechsar tuv.”  (Another version of Rashi, according to alhatorah.org, is “lo yechsar kol tuv.”)

I have seen it suggested that the word  שלל   is a continuation of the  חיל   image. But Soncino offers a better explanation: “it connotes an increase of wealth which does not result from one’s personal labours, and is therefore selected here because it is wealth which accrues to the man from his wife’s enterprise.” See similarly Daat Mikra: “rechush she-ba bli yegiah” (=property that comes without [his] effort).

Verse 18: “taamah ki tov  סחרה:  ArtScroll translates: “She discerns that her enterprise is good.” That first word טעם has two main meanings in Tanach: “taste” and “perceive.” Only in writing this column did I finally perceive (!) that they are related.  From the “taste” meaning, the word expanded to the “perceive” meaning. I.e., the beginning of understanding things comes from physical experiences. There is an interesting parallel in the root ידע. A widespread view is that initially it referred to “the sensory awareness of objects and circumstances in one’s environment.” (E.g., Gen. 4:1.) Only later did it expand to its more general meaning.

סחר   Is another interesting root. Initially it meant “go around,” like the root  סבב. Only later did it expand into a “merchant, business” meaning, as such a person travels around. 

In our verse, one possibility is a business-related meaning. But Daat Mikra offers another possibility: הליכותיה, her general goings about.  

Verse 19:כישור:  “yadeha shilcha va-kishor, ve-chapeha tamchu falech” (=her hands are placed on the kishor and her palms hold the falech.) פלך is a word related to sewing. See, e.g., Jastrow who defines it as either the distaff or the spindle. It appears a few times in Tanach.

The word  כישור only appears here. Since it is parallel to פלך, it is likely a noun related to sewing. Most likely, it is not related to the main Biblical root  כשר, which means “appropriate, proper.” (But Radak and others take the position that it is related. For example, Radak thinks it puts the yarn in “proper” form. See his Sefer HaShorashim.)

The precise sewing-related noun that is being referred to by “kishor” is unclear. (The Daat Mikra mentions a few possibilities.) H. Tawil writes that Akkadian has a common expression related to sewing that has both the nouns “pilakku” and “kirissu.” He suggests that our “kishor” may be a metathesis from the latter. See his An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, p. 296. Another source views “kishor” as a loanword from an Akkadian-Sumerian word for a spinning whorl, “gish-sur.” 

Verse 21:  “Her house will not be afraid of snow because her entire household is wearing ‘shanim.’ “   שני (shani) is a reddish color. It is short for “tolaat ha-shani.” The red dye for the color is produced from a worm (“tolaat”). “Shani” literally means “shine, flash” and alludes to the radiance of the color. Sometimes, as here, the color and its material (צמר ) are referred to as “shani” alone. (Presumably, the material here is wool. See Rambam, Klei Ha-Mikdash 8:13.)

Metzudat David on our verse explains that this red color will easily get warm. Alternatively, Daat Mikra explains that “shanim” implies “tzemer meshubach.” Its luxuriousness is also implied at 2 Sam 1:24 and Jer. 4:30.  (Some interpret “shanim” in our verse in Mishlei as double layers!) 

Verse 30:  תתהלל.This word has the structure of a hitpael. If so, it would mean “praise herself.” Is our woman of valor praising herself? This seems highly unlikely! The explanation is as follows. There are words that have the form of a hitpael in Tanach but the meaning is really the passive, as if the words were written in the niphal. The niphal is the meaning here:  praised by others. Here is another example: At Jonah 3:8, we have: “ve-yitkasu sakim ha-adam ve-ha-behemah…. “   Animals cannot dress themselves! There are many other examples of this use of the hitpael in Tanach. See, e.g., Gen. 37:35 and Ps. 92:10.  (Hitpaels with passive meanings are found even more frequently in Rabbinic Hebrew.)

An interesting issue is the meaning in the famous blessing of Bilam at Num. 23:9:  יתחשב . Is this to be understood as the standard hitpael: We are not counting ourselves among the nations? Or is it the passive: We are not being counted by others among the nations?


As my long-time readers know, the peh verse precedes the ayin verse in the acrostics in chapters, 2, 3 and 4 in the book of Eichah and in chapter 1 in the Dead Sea text of Eichah. In recent decades, much archaeological evidence has come to light showing that this was the original order in ancient Israel. (A peh-ayin order also makes much more sense at Ps. 34:16-17. See the Daat Mikra.)

Even before the archaeological discoveries of recent decades, the manuscripts of the Greek translation of Proverbs 31 had the peh verse preceding the ayin verse. These Greek manuscripts date from the fourth century C.E. This is many centuries before our earliest Hebrew texts of Proverbs. In light of all the archaeological discoveries of the recent decades, we now realize that these Greek manuscripts were preserving the original order.

      Let us look at our present order of verses 24-26:

          v. 24: (ס) She makes cloaks and sells them; she delivers belts to the merchant.

          v. 25: (ע) Might and splendor are her clothing; she laughs to the last day.

          v. 26: (פ) She opens her mouth with wisdom; the law of kindness is on her tongue.

In our present order, she laughs to the last day because she makes cloaks and sells them, delivers belts to the merchant, and is clothed with might and splendor. But if the original order here was peh-ayin, the qualities that enable her to laugh to the last day would also include her wisdom and kindness- a much more profound description of her nobility! (Note that there are no Dead Scrolls of these three verses to help establish the original order.)

Mitchell First can be reached at: [email protected]. He very much appreciates his “Eshet Chayil” Sharon for allowing him to spend much of his time writing this column!

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles