CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
DOES THE TORAH
DISPARAGE OR REVERE THE JEWISH WOMAN?
HOW TRUE BEAUTY ISN'T
A WIFE OF VALOR (Running
Commentary Of "Aishes Chayil," based primarily on Gemora, Midrash and Rishonim)
WIFE OF VALOR/AISHESS
THE TALMUDIC SAGES
ON JUDAISM'S HIGH REGARD FOR JEWISH WOMEN
KAVOD AND SHALOM ARE
ESSENTIAL TO MARRIAGE
KAVOD DUE FROM A WIFE
MARRIAGE WISDOM FROM
CHAZAL AND GEDOLAY TORAH
DOES THE TORAH
DISPARAGE OR REVERE THE JEWISH WOMAN?
Every morning the Jewish man makes a
blessing that G-d did not make him a woman. Women (in the corresponding spot in morning
prayers) have a substitute blessing that G-d made her according to His will. I have been
asked many times by traditional Jewish women something to the effect of, "Isn't this
a 'put down' or disparagement of women by Judaism?" Some simply ask how to understand
the blessing, not seeming too sure how to feel about it.
It is clear and repeated throughout Torah sources that, in spite of modern conception
of traditional man-woman roles in Judaism, that the Torah's "party line" on its
women is utmost reverence. For example, King Solomon writes [Proverbs 1:8], "Never
abandon the Torah of your mother." We know that the mitzva of teaching Torah to a
child is on the father [Deuteronomy 6:7], so "Torah of your mother" seems at
first a contradiction. No. A father can perform what is substantially a technical and
intellectual act of teaching Torah. But, the Torah is G-d's wisdom, and King Solomon was
the greatest paragon of wisdom who ever lived. No one is more able to tell us that the
Torah of the father lives only because of the Torah of the mother. The Torah comes from
the same Creator Who created us. The Torah knows human nature and psychology. Much as some
of us analytical Litvaks hate to admit it, human behavior comes from emotions, not from
the intellect. Ask any ba'al mussar: the purity of midos in the heart determine emotions,
and emotions determine thoughts and behavior. It is the mother who nurtures and forms the
midos and emotions, creating the roots of the personality of the child, especially during
the young years. Chazal refer to early years as the years of "tzarich eemo (when the
child needs its mother)." It is not when the child needs its father. It is the mother
who upon whom the child's development, midos, emotions, course in life, and Torah depend.
The father does not get to "square one" teaching Torah unless and until the
mother laid the appropriate groundwork and foundation. The wisest of all men, who knew
wisdom better than any other mortal, said of the Jewish wife, "Her wisdom built her
home [Proverbs 9:1]." The Jewish woman creates the roots so the father might produce
a tree. The Jewish woman creates the foundation so that the father can build a building.
But without her contribution and input, the father does not even get started. Our people
depends on the Jewish woman. She is our backbone, even when in the background! Credit for
our achievements and survival goes to her. It is the Jewish woman who deserves our entire
people's respect, appreciation, recognition and admiration. Again - the Torah acknowledges
her, not the husband. At the start, a child only feels. When the woman develops the child
so it has a wholesome foundation, it will learn Torah suitably from the father. Only the
woman's love, intuitive understanding and ability make the "raw material" of a
child into a kailee (instrument, container) for the Torah that the father will teach when
the child comes to the age of intellectual understanding.
A widespread problem today is the focus on the intellect and putting emotions into a
"back seat." Western society disparages the emotional qualities that are natural
to the women. Society put the intrinsic role of the woman down, women are forced into
man's roles and the mentality of sameness. That which is intrinsically feminine or
masculine evaporates, the woman is implicitly put-down by society because being what she
authentically is gets played down; saying that the real her, the person she truly is ain't
OK. Black glasses make snow look black. Men are no longer real men either. They don't
respect the women and the women don't respect the men. Neither is any longer what the
other was created to need or to respect. This is destructive to the women, the men and the
children. Therefore, the problem today is that what a woman is, never mind how she should
be regarded or praised, gets blurred. In the process, the perception is created that she
and her nature are not OK. Getting back to the Torah reveals that she is more than OK. She
is revered and precious. If only every Jewish heart - male and female - would be
interested in learning - and practicing - the Torah more!
If Jewish women knew how high the Torah's regard for them is, and how the Jewish wife
is the greatest hero of our nation; and if they could reap the fulfillment, self-esteem,
happiness and satisfaction that a Jewish woman deserves; and if Jewish men would
appreciate, respect, love and treat Jewish women as our men are obliged to; their wives
would give back and respond in kind; and today's disruptive shalom bayis, divorce, aguna
and Orthodox feminism trends would evaporate. Jewish marriages would be peaceful and
HOW TRUE BEAUTY ISN'T ONLY
A superficial marriage is a "dead
marriage waiting to happen." Much emphasis today is placed on externals - looks,
money, impression, status. These often contradict marriage success; causing harm, torment
and self-sabotage. It is the deeper qualities that enable a marriage to endure and to be
A husband and wife each are obligated to VOLUNTARILY treat each other like royalty
[Midrash], with excesses of respect [Rambam, Ishuss], ongoing giving which pleases one
another [Michtav Me'Eliyahu] and loyal obedience to the marital instructions of Chazal
[Pela Yo'etz]. The greatest thing is peace [Beraishis Raba]. True wisdom is turning bad
things into good things [Orchos Tzadikim], true strength is turning someone who hates you
into someone who loves you [Avos DeRebi Noson] and it is easy for you to love someone who
loves you [Rabbi Akiva Aiger]. It is crucial for spouses to make themselves exclusive for
one another and to vigilantly make each other know this securely and constantly. If they
do all this, together with the practical functioning in life required of each, and with
effective communication, the couple will have great love for each other.
The more modest, humble, respectable and good-hearted a woman makes herself, the bigger
she gets in her husband's eyes. The bigger a wife makes herself, the smaller she gets in
her husband's eyes [Menoras Ha'Maor]. Either way (bigger or smaller), his nature is to
respond with the opposite of what she presents to him. That's the way G-d made nature.
Taking modesty seriously, and keeping affection and physicality private, are major parts
of the holiness of the Jewish people. Modesty is a safeguard against immorality, which is
a vital element of peaceful marriage; and keeps a woman exclusively for her husband.
Jewish law requires that a woman be modest in dress, demeanor, actions and approach to
marriage, career and life. When she is modest, she is meritorious in G-d's eyes. Further
(even though this may be contrary to modern theory), the more a wife is modest, the more a
husband will love, respect and admire her. Her internal character qualities make her
bigger, more beautiful and beloved to her husband. "All of a Jewish woman's honor is
internal (Psalms 45:14)." Immodesty and externals have no intrinsic worth.
"Charm is false and external beauty is empty, a woman who reveres G-d is praiseworthy
One of the main manifestations of modesty is in the woman's dress code, which achieves
a privacy about herself to which the public may not have access. In the
modesty-dress-code, the clothes of a Jewish woman or girl must keep her covered to at
least the knees and elbows (the clothes must allow for complete coverage under all
circumstances, e.g when passing an article to another person; when bending, lifting or
turning), the neck-line must be covered and closed (e.g. no low neckline nor open buttons)
so that nothing under the neck is ever disclosed. Her demeanor has to be modest. If a
woman wears clothes that are technically modest but * the colors are loud or * her walk is
evocative or * the clothes are tight-fitting or * the clothes have slits or * her elbows,
knees and neckline are not covered by the garment when she passes a plate of potatoes or *
she fixes her stockings on the sidewalk or * she yells - she misses the point, defeats the
purpose and still violates modesty. Once a woman has been married, her own hair must be
covered with an appropriate kerchief, hat or wig. Please consult your orthodox rabbi for
details or questions.
Just as beautiful inner qualities endear a wife to her husband, Torah makes a husband
more esteemed in the eyes of a Jewish wife. If a man fulfills his obligation to learn
Torah regularly every day; AND if the learning will show up IN HIM; the combination of: *
his active dedication to regular times for Torah learning and * the Torah being evident in
his speech, behavior, thinking and character...bring a man respect, fondness, devotion and
admiration from his wife. He also should ongoingly and unconditionally: bring presents
(that show thought, not necessarily cost big money), ask how she and the children are,
thank her for things she does, offer to do favors, and show that she matters and is
precious to him.
The crucial traits are those of the heart - sterling midos, affection, honor,
integrity, understanding, warmth and responsibility. When, in practical life, the spouses
consistently present to each other: inner, Torah-based qualities and treatment (and doing
so sweetly and gently, with concern and consideration, relating HEART TO HEART), their
peace WITH each other, appreciation FOR each other and trust IN each other truly zooms up!
In these few paragraphs is much of what goes into having a strong, compatible, beautiful,
happy and lasting marriage. Think into this deeply and apply it diligently.
A WIFE OF VALOR (Running
Commentary Of "Aishes Chayil," based primarily on Gemora, Midrash and Rishonim)
Now, let's look at that wonderful Biblical
ode to the Jewish wife and see what it is that makes a woman into a praiseworthy wife. Our
basic source is "Aishess Chayil (A Wife of Valor)," sung by the Jewish husband
to his wife every Friday night (before "kiddush"), originating from the book of
Mishlai-Proverbs 31:10-31. We'll do a running commentary to the verses and see what goes
into being a superb, wonderful, valorous Jewish wife.
Who can find wife of valor? Her value is far beyond that of pearls (verse 10). The
Targum translates chayil (valor) to mean "kosher." Chazal say that "A
kosher wife does what her husband wants" [Tana DeBay Eliyahu 9]. A proper wife is
pious, patient and devoted. She separates from the house of her family and gives herself
over to her husband through good times and bad from youth to old age. Metsudas Tzion
defines chayil as zealous, straight, correct, principled. Eben Ezra says that she has
wisdom and is capable of material acquisitions. The Targum translates the reference to
pearls as meaning that a Jewish wife is more precious and dear than pearls.
When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, the men separated from their wives, saying,
"Why should we bring children into the world? They will just be slaves and
suffer." The righteous Jewish women understood that, even though their husbands were
in despair, G-d will redeem the Jewish people. There has to be a new generation of Jews.
The women made themselves attractive. They comforted and encouraged their husbands.
Through their virtue, the Jewish woman were responsible for the birth of the generation
that was redeemed and which went on to receive the Torah. They cast the mold for Jewish
women - who are the support and strength and of their husbands in all generations.
The midrash tells of how Rabbi Meir's two sons died on the same day. His wife wisely
broke the news to him in a gradual and considerate way. She said to her husband that a
deposit was entrusted by Hashem to them. She asked him whether they should return the
deposit to the one who entrusted her with it, not revealing the identity of the deposit.
He replied that she certainly should return the deposit, she revealed to him that their
two sons were the deposit and they were claimed back by Hashem. This also refers to women
in the Bible who supported their husbands in service of G-d; who did charity, kindness and
good deeds. This is, of course, a model and inspiration for a Jewish wife in all
generations, including today.
A lovely midrash tell of how Hashem revealed to Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov that He
would bring their descendants, the Jewish people, into a long, hard and bitter exile.
Avraham prayed, "I was prepared to sacrifice my only son for You. In my merit, redeem
the Jewish people from exile." Hashem said, "No." Yitzchok prayed, "I
was prepared to BE the sacrifice for You. In my merit, redeem the Jewish people from
exile. Hashem said, "No." Yaakov prayed, "I raised the twelve holy tribes.
In my merit, redeem the Jewish people from exile. Hashem said, "No." Then,
Rachel prayed, "My father switched my sister for me at Yaakov's wedding. I gave my
sister Leah the signals that Yaakov and I arranged, that the wedding should proceed, in
order not to break her heart and publicly humiliate Leah. In my merit, redeem the Jewish
people from exile." Hashem said, "For you, I will redeem the Jewish people from
exile because you practiced chesed together with rachamim." Avraham was famous for
kindness. We see that the practice of kindness (chesed) in conjunction with rachamim
(sensitivity, caring, compassion, mercy for another) is a powerful and meritorious
combination. Redemption from exile will require chesed together with rachamim, so it is
mida kinnegged mida that the redemption come due to Rachels's merit. It is not nearly as
much to do an act as when it is done with deep feeling for and sense of connection to the
recipient - what the other's state, situation, pain, need, etc. is. Rachel achieved this
with her sister Leah, and the Torah attributes so much merit to her act of chesed together
with rachamim that it is because of her that the Jewish people will come to salvation from
exile. The Jew should be inspired to act with chesed together with rachamim in practical
behavior with other Jews in general, and one's family in particular.
The Torah lauds and appreciates women from Creation and on. The name Chava (Eve) means
"mother of all life," whereas "Adam" means "man," but does
not mean "father of all life." Whereas the commandment to teach Torah applies to
a father, the Bible says, "Never abandon the Torah of your mother." The impact
of a mother - her love, her tenderness - is deeper and more fundamental to her child and
his development. Because the inclination in a child is to warm up to the mother, the Torah
(in its commandment to honor parents) states honor of father before that of the mother, to
compensate for the natural tendency to honor a mother, so that honor is equal.
Avraham achieved the high level of prophesy and brought awareness of G-d into the
world. Yet, the Torah says that G-d told Avraham to listen to Sarah for her understanding
and prophesy were on a higher level than his. While she was alive, G-d's divine presence
hovered over their home, their home was generously hospitable to guests, the dough was
blessed because she used her material property for service of G-d and the Friday night
lights remained burning till each subsequent Friday evening because Sarah kept peace with
Avraham. When Sarah died, all of these attributes left Avraham's house. They only returned
after Yitzchok married Rivka. The Torah lauds Rivka as a paragon of kindness and goodness.
When the Jews were in Egypt, Miriam said to her father, "By separating from my
mother, you are more cruel and murderous than Paro. He kills the Jewish male babies and
you kill both male and female." When he returned to his wife, they bore Moshe (who
saved the Jewish people) and the other couples followed suit and resumed normal married
life, and produced the generation which was redeemed. Due to Paro's decree to cast all
Jewish baby boys into the Nile, Moshe's mother put him into a basket and his sister,
Miriam, put it on the Nile and watched after it. When Paro's daughter found the basket and
adopted the baby, Miriam arranged for her mother to be hired by the princess to nurse the
baby. When the Jews were in the desert, how was their water supplied? G-d miraculously
provided a rock which followed the Jewish people around in the hot, sandy desert, which
supplied the Jewish people with water - in Miriam's merit! When Miriam died, the entire
nation stopped traveling to mourn for this woman who both caused and saved the life of
In the desert, at the sins of the golden calf and the spies discouraging the Jews from
going into the land of Israel, no woman participated. The women were steadfastly loyal to
In the days of the Judges, in one generation there was no leader in Israel. A
neighboring nation attacked Israel. A woman of superlative wisdom, courage and character
became the leader of Israel. Devorah lead the people to service of G-d and defeat of the
army of attacking Sisera. She assembled and lead Israel's army which killed the invading
army to the last man - except their leader, Sisera. He escaped into a house in which the
wife, Yael, was home alone. Sisera demanded that she hide and feed him, and tell any
pursuer that he was not there. She gave him a heavy meal which, in combination with his
war-weariness put him to sleep. Yael took a stick and hammer and broke his head. The
Jewish people now were entirely saved, owing to Devorah and Yael.
In the days of Achashverosh, it was the righteous and courageous Esther who saved the
Jewish people - leading to the Purim miracle. In the days of the Chashmonoyim, Yehudis
enticed the leader of the invading Greeks. She fed him salted cheese, which made him
thirsty. She gave him strong wine to drink. When he fell asleep, she cut the general's
head off and broke the courage of the Greek army, allowing the Maccabees to defeat the
invaders and save Israel - leading to the Chanuka miracle.
The woman in the home is the greatest heroine. She effectively and devotedly
accomplishes a complex multiplicity of high-pressure tasks. I know a case where a good
natured husband offered to help his wife. She told him to watch the cooking, handle the
baby, sweep the floor, make a phone call. Just listening to the instructions he became
confused, discouraged and dizzy. He apologetically said, "Never mind." He
couldn't manage all the things his wife had to do at one time. She couldn't fully
understand what was so difficult (she does it all the time!). She graciously went right
back to he busy routine "without missing a beat." He had awe, appreciation and
marvel for his wife ever after. In Judaism, it is the modest, pious and virtuous wife who
is responsible for the achievements of her husband and sons. "'He who has a happy
heart always lives a feast' (Proverbs 15:15). This refers to one who has a good wife (Bava
Her husband's heart relies upon her and he will lack nothing because of her (verse 11).
The valorous wife's husband can fully and safely trust her down to the depths of his
heart. Even if he is poor, a Jewish wife brings sweetness and happiness to her husband. If
a wife is evil, she will make a good man evil. If a wife is good, she will make an evil
man good. A man's character goes after the righteousness of his wife. Metzudas Dovid says
that he can trust her so much, that even when he goes away he remains fully secure that
she will take care of and protect all of his home and business. Ralbag writes that her
husband's heart trusts her because she learns to feel what he wants and does it before he
The midrash tells of a couple who were married for ten years and had no children. They
came to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochoi for a divorce. The Rabbi understood that even though they
sought a divorce for childlessness (perhaps if they married others, they might have
children), they dearly loved each other. He said that they must make a feast for their
divorce just as they made a feast for their wedding. During the feast, the wife made the
husband drunk. He said to his wife, "Choose whichever item which you want most in our
home and take it with you to your father's house." He then fell asleep. She
instructed her servants to carry her husband to her father's house. When he awoke, he
asked her, "Where am I?" She replied, "In my father's house."
"Why am I here?" She replied sweetly, "You told me to choose the item which
I want most and take it to my father's house. I love nothing more than you." They
returned to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochoi. When he saw that they recognized the depth of their
love, he prayed for them and G-d gave them a progeny.
She gives to him good and never bad all the days of her life (verse 12). It is
important to see that the language in the verse is doubled: she bestows good to him AND
not bad. It is possible for someone to be both good and bad, at different times or in
different situations. A person could make you happy in some ways and drive you crazy in
other ways. The valorous wife constantly and consistently bestows good to the exclusion of
The verb "gomail" (to give, bestow, pay) is significant. The verse doesn't
say "nosain" (which also could mean "to give"). What
"gomail" indicates is that she doesn't just technically or just to keep busy do
good. She makes sure that it is delivered all the way to where it is good for her husband.
It is good in quality and quantity. It is good for him, it "lands" where it
should go, she follows through to make sure the good is always fully delivered. That's the
kind of good that she does to the exclusion of any bad, all the days of her life. She is
particularly reliable when he is in need or suffering. Metzudas Dovid writes that she pays
back for the good her husband does for her but never for the bad that he may have done.
He will lack nothing from her. If a man honors his wife, he will be blessed on her
account and grow more wealthy. If her husband treats her all his life with respect and
goodness, she and G-d repay him for the good he does to her. If a man makes his wife
secure and happy, it is in the nature of the Jewish wife to give back. She will give back
in return to the point at which he is secure down to the depths of his heart. She will be
a gain for him all of her life. Her virtue and value will be more than the worth of pearls
- worth more than anything of material value.
She seeks wool and flax and she works willingly with her hands (verse 13). Eben Ezra
says that she seeks to obtain wool and flax (i.e. materials that she needs in order to do
her work). Metzudas Dovid goes further by saying that she seeks, on her own, to obtain the
wool and flax that she needs and she works with them without being prodded by anyone else.
She voluntarily takes on the responsibilities of wifehood, motherhood and housekeeping of
her own free will. She is ready to work with her own hands to fulfill her
responsibilities. She even has will to do her work as if her hands run to do it, even when
the work is hard.
She is like merchant ships bringing food from far away (verse 14). A merchant ship has
to sail to bring merchandise to or from distant lands to do its commerce, she does what
she has to do to prepare food and maintain the house. Metzudas Dovid writes that even
though her husband is required to support her, if she has the talent or if the house has
the need, she will work and help support her husband and earn livelihood that the family
She wakes up when it is still night to give food to her household and a portion to the
servants (verse 15). She makes sure that what each person needs is provided. She gets up
to give each person of the house his or her division of food (Targum). The midrash says
that this refers to Bisya, daughter of Paro, who sustained Moshe. She converted to be a
Jew and the midrash counts her as among the righteous of Jewish women. She rose early (to
go to the river) and (upon finding Moshe) fed a Jewish child.
She considers a field and buys it, from the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard
(verse 16). She thinks about a field (Targum), weighing a thing before she does it. She
considers, and only then, buys the field. Metzudas Dovid says that when a valorous wife
considers doing something, and deems it worthy of doing, then, once she decides it is
right to do, she doesn't rest until she accomplishes it. She works diligently and stays
with something so that until she brings it to the fruition towards which she is working,
she doesn't let up; and from her work there are prosperous results (Targum).
She girds herself with power and strengthens her arms (verse 17). Metzudas Dovid
explains that she exerts herself extensively to perform work. She runs and works zealously
to strengthen her resolve to do her work (Ralbag). Chazal also apply this verse to Miriam
who had a prophesy that her mother would give birth to a son who would be the redeemer of
Israel from Egypt and slavery. When Moshe was born, and the slavery then grew heavier, her
father hit her on the head, asked, "Where is your prophesy?" and spat in her
face. Miriam strengthened herself, adhered with conviction to her prophesy and watched
after her brother from a distance while he was floating in the basket on the river - so
strong were her resolve and perseverance through to completion.
She deems that her merchandise is good, her light does not go out at night (verse 18).
She advises herself that her merchandise is good, she works on it into the night (Eben
Ezra). She follows through to work for the profit (or goal) into the night (Metzudas
Dovid). Chanah, mother of the Prophet Shmuel, prayed so diligently for a son, merited one
who was compared to Moshe and Aharon. When Shmuel first attained to prophesy, the Bible
uses language similar to our verse here, "And the light of G-d had not gone out and
Shmuel was asleep in the Temple of G-d where the ark of G-d was and G-d called to
Shmuel...(1 Samuel 3:3-4)." His mother prayed late into the night and merited a son
who would begin to receive prophesy late at night.
She stretches her hand onto the spinning stick [kishor] and her hands support the
spindle (verse 19). There is a deeper meaning than the apparent meaning of her operating
her weaving machine. Rashi writes that "kishor" is related to "machshir
(prepares). The kishor is the stick which prepares the spindle to spin. What the valorous
wife does, she does in order to prepare things for greater purposes. Although her mind is
on her business, she doesn't move from - and remains devoted to - her mundane work
(Metzudas Dovid). In midrash, this refers to the pious Yael. She killed Sisera, the leader
of an army invading Israel, by stabbing him with a tent peg. She refrained from using a
sword because the Torah commands that a Jewish woman wear no article of a man. Yael
stretched out her hand and did what she had to, to support the entire Jewish nation.
She spreads out her hand to the poor person and she stretches her hand out to the needy
(verse 20). She generously opens her hand to enable to poor person to take her donation.
She does not close her hand to hold onto it. She makes it accessible and available.
(Metzudas Dovid). She gives bread for the poor to eat (Eben Ezra).
She is not afraid for her household of snow and all of her household is dressed in
colorful clothes (verse 21). She does not fear cold, inclement weather. She dresses her
family in brightly colored clothes (Rashi), being deep red, which keep her family very
warm (Metzudas Dovid).
She makes bedspreads for herself, her garment is fine linen and purple wool (verse 22).
Beautiful bedspreads (Rashi) that she made herself (Metzudas Dovid). Lovely clothes
symbolize lovely, praiseworthy and clean midos (character traits). Soiled clothes
symbolize repugnant character traits (Ralbag). The virtuous, valorous wife is
"clothed" in fine, beautiful midos.
Her husband is known at the gates when he sits with the elders of the land (verse 23).
The "gates" of a town, in Biblical times, were the place where the scholars and
the court convened. Because his virtuous wife furnishes beautiful garments, her husband is
recognizable by the people of his town (Rashi). Because of the beautiful clothes that his
wife made, he is well esteemed when he sits with the wise and important leaders at the
city gate. (Metzudas Dovid). Because of her, the leaders and sages of the city give him
recognition and respect. The husband is famed for his vast wisdom, acquired because his
wife encouraged him to learn assiduously. (Ralbag).
In Midrash, this refers to King David's wife Michal. She was daughter of King Saul, who
sought to kill David. When Saul pursued David, he had to flee for his life. He went to the
prophet Shmuel, who taught David Torah that an accomplished scholar would not grasp. He
gained tremendously, so much so that the Talmud says that the nation came to King David
with the hardest and most complex of Torah questions. He owed this to his wife, who
rescued him and helped him escape to Shmuel. Since his scholarship and his life were owed
to Michal, he publicized her devotion to him and, when he attained scholarship and
kingship, he came to be known as: Michal's husband. Due to his valorous wife, David lived
to be king and he came to be known at the gates, i.e. as a paragon of learning and of
She makes a cloak and sells it, she gives a strap to the merchants (verse 24). In
addition to the clothes that she makes for the family, she also makes garments to sell to
others (Metzudas Dovid). She contributes to the family livelihood. She improves the family
income so that when she wants nice things for herself, she earns the money on her own
(Ralbag). A cloak is a garment in which one enwraps oneself (Metzudas Tzion). She sells
the cloak to merchants (Rashi, Eben Ezra). By wisely using her work time to produce a
useful item, she can sell it commercially.
Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the final day (verse 25). Her
clothes are strong, durable and dignified in their beauty (Metzudas Dovid). It is (owing
to her virtues) like she is dressed in strength and dignity (Eben Ezra). She has complete
beauty owing to her beautiful midos, with which she subjugates her physical desires. She
achieves this by conducting herself completely by the ways of the Torah (Ralbag).
She can laugh all her life at the final day, her day of death, because she has a good
reputation (Rashi). She will be honored when she dies (Metzudas Dovid). She is happy owing
to having lived a spiritual, virtuous life. She is not worried about lacking anything when
she will be old nor about lacking anything in her eternal life (Eben Ezra). Great people
do not fear death (Ralbag). When one is born, no person knows what one's potential is. At
the time one dies, it is known what one's life has been and has achieved. One who has
lived a meritorious life go onto G-dly reward for their goodness, virtues, Torah, mitzvos
and spiritual accomplishments. The valorous wife has spent her time on behalf of her
husband, children, nation and Creator.
Her mouth is open with wisdom the instruction of kindness is on her tongue (verse 26).
The "formula" for her virtuous life is spending her time exclusively involved in
Torah and kindness. She is not content for her alone to speak Torah and perform kindness.
She is a role model and good influence on everyone that she possibly can be. She uses her
power of speech exclusively for Torah and kindness. Everything she says and does conveys
Torah and kindness, and sanctifies G-d to all who see her. Even her mundane activities
have good motivations. All of her statements are with wisdom, she teaches and motivates
others to do kindness to other people (Metzudas Dovid). The midrash refers
"instruction of kindness" to the woman in 2 Shmuel 20:16-22 who saved a city by
wisely demonstrating that the city was innocent.
She looks over the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of laziness (verse
27). She pays attention to all the needs of her household and watches that all behave with
truth and with modesty (Rashi). She does not do her work imperfectly, all preparations are
complete, everything is done fully (Ralbag). She eats quickly and very efficiently, not
wasting a lot of time over eating, so that she will get back to, and be diligent in all
of, her duties.
Her children rise and rejoice in her and her husband praises her (verse 28). Her entire
family praises her because of her wonderful actions (Metzudas Dovid). Her husband praises
her for their children; the children are a testament to her greatness and attribution of
valor to her (Eben Ezra).
Many woman have acquired valor but you outdo them all (verse 29). This is the
articulation of the praises by her husband and children in the previous verse (Rashi).
Even though other women have been meritorious, you are the best (Ralbag, Eben Ezra). In
midrash, this refers to Ruth, who left a privileged life as a heathen princess. She
converted to Judaism, becoming a commoner during hard economic times, to live as a pious
Charm is false and beauty is meaningless, a woman who fears G-d is praiseworthy (verse
30). Everything in the physical world is meaningless and false. In the long run, no one
praises anyone for charm or beauty. Only fear of G-d can cause one to come to being truly
praiseworthy (Rashi). The Torah says, "What does Hashem ask of you but that you fear
G-d." Hashem Himself defines "fear of G-d" as the key quality for a person
to cultivate because this is the trait on the basis of which one is able to choose between
good and evil, to make free-will choices, and thereby serve the will of G-d. Fear of G-d
is a pivotal and fundamental mida (trait). When a wife has this trait, and conducts her
behavior on the basis of it, she achieves the true thing for which a person is to be
praised. This will be the basis for all the praiseworthy actions that she performs in her
lifetime. This verse also refers to Ruth, who abandoned her family, ancestry and wealth to
move to Israel and become a G-d fearing Jew. Her reward was her being the
great-grandmother of David, King of Israel, who praised Hashem by writing songs to G-d,
the Biblical book of Psalms.
Give her the fruit of her hands and her deeds will praise her in the gates (verse 31).
Her husband says to their children to give to her the fruits of her efforts so that people
will praise her; also, her deeds will attribute praise to her by their own merit (Eben
Ezra). Pay her back kindly for her deeds and praise her (Metzudas Dovid). Her deeds will
evoke praise from the important and learned sages and elders of the town who are at the
gates; where people will tell of her sweet and pleasant midos, her good character, her
fear of Hashem; and the purpose of all of this is that the Jewish woman will be correct
and will strive to serve her husband and to manage her house according to the fashion
described in this "Aishess Chayil" material (Ralbag).
These are the truly praiseworthy, wonderful things in a wife, as the Torah teaches us.
The wife whose actions, character and qualities are those which are praised by the sages
of the Torah who assemble at the gates of the city, the people who know the Torah, know
what the Torah wants and values, this wife truly is the wife of virtue, in the Torah's
WIFE OF VALOR/AISHESS
We learn from "Aishess Chayil [Woman Of Valor],"
that a woman who fears Hashem is the truly praiseworthy woman. King Solomon, at the
conclusion of Kohelless/Ecclesiastes writes that fear of Hashem and doing His mitzvos is
all there is to human life. A true aishess chayil, therefore, is attached to the true
purpose and goal of human existence.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch writes that when G-d created man, at the time of creation,
He formed man from cold and dead earth. When G-d formed woman, He created her out of
already living and warm tissue. This means that woman started on a higher level and has
the potential to be the highest entity in creation.
When the Jewish woman's conduct is characterized by fear of G-d and Torah, and she
instills and reinforces these in her family, she has reached the pinnacle of what human
existence is for. It is not by accident that the Jewish woman is called the
"ikkerress habayis, the essence of the house." She is the one who makes each
home fulfill its role, duty and destiny to fear G-d, obey His Torah and achieve the
purpose for which G-d created human life. She is the one upon whom we depend to ensure the
spiritual integrity and continuity of our people.
Chazal tell of a young man who fell in love with a young woman, who wouldn't have
anything to do with him. He was in agony with lovesickness. He asked his rov if he could
climb up on the wall around her house to at least look at her. His rov said,
"No." He said that if he cannot at least see her, he will die. His rov told him
that it is better for him to die than for him to SEE EVEN ONE PINKY OF HERS because that
would be using a bas Yisroel [daughter of Israel] for improper pleasure. So high is the
esteem in which the Jewish people view its women, so marked by respect and concern is the
Jewish mind-set about its women, that it was better for this young man to die than even
slightly violate the high reverence required for the Jewish woman.
Similarly, when we insist that a woman dress and behave modestly, cover her hair when
married, walk behind her husband, or the like; these are not to make her a second class
citizen. These are to keep man's view of her from being inappropriate, to keep his view of
each bas Yisroel 100% pure and respectful. When the Jewish woman remains modest, she is
protected from being regarded by men wrongly. Her dignity is preserved.
When the Jewish woman says an alternative blessing that G-d created her "according
to His will," this is not a "put down," this is a COMPLIMENT to her! He
made her, from already living flesh, with higher intuitive understanding and the ability
to be the essence of the Jewish people and calling, giving the Torah woman the highest
potential in the universe, if she chooses to fulfill it.
The Jewish woman is created with potential to be the most superior creation there is.
Man has extra mitzvos because he has greater need to be channelled. Woman is free from
active, time-based mitzvos so she can do what she was created for and has the perfect
nature for. She is a hero of our people, created by G-d "according to His will."
When she fulfills her practical and spiritual duties and responsibilities, woman is the
height of creation!
THE TALMUDIC SAGES ON
JUDAISM'S HIGH REGARD FOR JEWISH WOMEN
Let me bring several teachings from Chazal [the sages] that
show how high and central the regard for woman is in traditional Judaism.
Midrash Beraishis Raba teaches how a husband should take care of a wife. The Torah
writes (Genesis 12:8) that Avraham prioritized his wife before himself. Avraham traveled
and pitched "oheloH (his tent)." In Hebrew, the suffix "H" makes a
noun possessive in the feminine gender (i.e "her" object). The masculine
possessive comes with the vowel "O" as a suffix (i.e. "his" object).
The Torah in Genesis 12:8 uses the strange combination of vowel "O" and the
consonant "H" with the noun "ohel (tent)." The translation of the text
as spoken is "his tent," and the translation of the text as written is "her
tent." So what is the meaning of the Torah's placing of this unusual "O"
and "H" together? The midrash explains that Avraham first pitched the tent of
Sara, his wife, before he pitched his own. We see this because the "H" is a
consonant which is more dominant in Hebrew grammar than a vowel ("O"). The Torah
is teaching us that whenever a husband needs to do something for himself and his wife, he
must take care of his wife's needs first. This will apply to all forms of help, respect,
kindness and consideration for his wife.
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter six) provides a wonderful lesson on giving benefit of doubt
in a marriage context. "A man should never be strict about his meals. It once
happened that Hillel the Elder invited a guest for a meal. A pauper came and stood at his
door and said [to Hillel's wife], 'Today I am to marry a woman and I have no livelihood
whatsoever.' [Hillel's] wife took the entire meal [which she made for her husband and his
guest] and gave it to [the pauper]. After that, she kneaded another dough, cooked another
meal and brought it and set it before them. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart,
why did you not bring [the meal] to us immediately?' She described to him all that
happened. He said to her, 'My sweetheart, I never judged you to be guilty. I only judged
favorably, because all of your deeds were only done for the sake of Heaven.'"
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter eleven) teaches that "He who hates his wife is one who
Kidushin (34b) says, "It is a man's obligation to make his wife happy."
Tractate Chulin (58b) has an aggadata (allegorical story). "For seven years a
female mosquito quarrelled with [her husband] a male mosquito. She said to him, 'I once
saw a human being from Mechuza [a town whose people enjoyed swimming] bathing in water.
When he came out, he wrapped himself in a sheet. You came and settled down upon him and
sucked out blood and you didn't let me know!'"
We see from this aggadata that a husband must share the pleasures of life with his
wife. He must not keep or sneak them for himself and not hide from his wife what he does
with his time. The Chazon Ish, possibly learning it from here, said that a husband must
let his wife know when he's leaving, where he's going, what he is going to be doing and
when he is going to be back. If he goes away on a journey, he must, every day, phone or
write her a letter; and bring her gifts from the places that he visited. If he deprives
her in any such ways, she will feel bad and "drive him crazy" about it "for
seven years," meaning to say, for a long time.
Tractate Chulin (84b) says that a man should eat and drink less than in accordance with
what he can afford, dress himself in accordance with what he can afford, and he should
honor his wife and children more than in accordance with what he can afford. The wife and
children are dependent on the husband, and the husband is dependent on the One Who Spoke
And The World Was Created.
Tractate Shabos (62b) says that a man must never give a wife cause to curse him, for a
justifiable curse (e.g. not spending on her in accordance with his means) can bring
Tractate Shabos (118b) Rabbi Yosi called his wife his "home," never
"wife." Rashi explains that Rabbi Yosi spoke with wisdom even in his plain
speech. By referring to his wife as his "home," he is adding a message that she
is the essence, the central figure of their house. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms]
explains Rabbi Yosi beautifully by writing: the home is the essence of life, the wife is
the essence of the home, therefore the wife is the essence of life, to the husband. It
seems appropriate to add that she transforms a "building" into a
"home" and into a refuge from the world, where he may have fulfillment and
Tractate Kesubos (61a) says that a husband must share the benefits of his life (e.g.
wealth or honor in the community) with his wife...a wife is given to a man for life and
not for pain (he should care for her so as to keep her from pain)...she is responsible for
the performance of a wife's duties.
Tractate Kesubos (62b-63a) recounts how Rabbi Akiva's wife sacrificed to enable him to
learn Torah and how he honored and appreciated her. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages
of the Talmud, grew up knowing no Torah. He was an uneducated shepherd. His employer's
daughter recognized that he was modest and of superlative character. She said that if he
would learn Torah she would marry him and he agreed. He married her and went away to
yeshiva. Her wealthy father, infuriated that his daughter would marry the shepherd,
disowned her. She lived in abject poverty and by herself for twelve years. When he
returned, he had advanced to the point at which he had twelve thousand disciples. When he
was arriving home, he heard an old man say to his wife, "How long will you live as a
widow?" She replied, "I would have him learn another twelve years." Rabbi
Akiva said, "This is her will," and he immediately about-faced and returned to
yeshiva for another twelve years. When he returned home, he had twenty-four thousand
disciples. When she heard that Rabbi Akiva was finally returning, she ran to meet him. Her
clothes were those of a poor beggar and she fell on her face to kiss his feet. His
students, thinking that this strange woman was publicly dishonoring their rabbi with
immodest behavior, were about to push her aside. He told them to leave her alone and said
to them, "ALL OF MY TORAH AND ALL OF YOUR TORAH IS HERS!"
Tractate Sanhedrin (76b) says that a husband should adorn his wife with attractive
jewels and ornaments, to make her more respectable (this is a practical, concrete way of
attributing honor to his wife). Besides giving honor, these make a woman very happy (even
though men may have trouble understanding why!).
Tractate Taanis (23b) tells us that Aba Chilkia was a tzadik. When there was a drought,
the townspeople came to his home to ask him to pray to Hashem for rain. He and his wife
went to the roof and went to the opposite corners to pray. The clouds formed over his wife
(answering her prayer). The people asked why the rain came in the merit of her prayer
(since he was a tzadik). He answered that when he gives kindness, he does it by giving
money to the poor. When his wife gives kindness, she personally cooks and serves food
herself; which is more direct, immediate and meaningful.
KAVOD AND SHALOM ARE
ESSENTIAL TO MARRIAGE
The Talmud makes unequivocal and clear that
marriage obligates both spouses to give enormous kavod (honor, respect) to each other. The
Talmud goes so far as to say that a marriage requires kavod for there to be peace. A
husband must give his wife more kavod than he would give to himself (Yevamos 62b) and a
wife must set aside her kavod for the kavod of her husband (Kidushin 31a). When brought as
practical halacha, the law codes (e.g. Rambam and Tur) cite that an enormous, even
excessive, measure of mutual kavod is obligatory on both the husband and wife for one
another at all times. Kavod is basically a measuring rod for whether the Torah defines a
marriage to be good or not, peaceful or not.
In my practical counseling for troubled marriages, or singles who have patterns of
stormy or futile relationships, one of the things that is central and recurrent in all
cases is that WHERE THERE IS TROUBLE, THERE IS NO KAVOD and WHERE THERE IS PEACE; THERE IS
MUTUAL, CONSTANT AND TRUSTWORTHY KAVOD.
Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer (chapter 13) says that G-d put His name between husband and
wife: He put the letters "yod" and "heh" (which form a name of G-d)
into the names for "ish" and "ishah" (Hebrew for "man" and
"woman"). G-d said: If the couple will go in My ways and observe My laws, then
My name is between them and this will save them from all trouble and anguish. If they will
not go in My ways and observe My laws, then, when I am taken out of their marriage, they
take the "yod" out of "Ish" and the "heh" out of
"ishaH" and that leaves them with only "alef" and "shin"
which spell "aish [fire]" and that fire will consume them.
In the gemora (Tractate Sota 17a) Rabbi Akiva explained that when a husband and wife
are worthy, the Divine Presence dwells with them and when they are not worthy, fire burns
them. Rava said that when the fire is caused by the woman, it is worse, comes faster and
is more punitive than the fire caused by the man. This is learned by the fact that the
first two letters of the word isha (wife) form the word aish (fire) whereas the first two
letters of the word ish (husband) do NOT form the word aish [there is a letter
"yod" in-between which means that ish is further away from aish; i.e. a woman's
ability to embitter a marriage is greater than a man's, e.g. if the man neglects or
Sefer Pela Yo'etz writes (in the section on "zivug [getting married]"), that
the marriage which operates by following the Torah and its sages is the marriage which
will be blessed by G-d and be happy. This couple will have a pleasant, calm, fortunate and
good life; and will have a sweet lot in olam habo (eternal life).
KAVOD DUE FROM A WIFE
A wife has to cook, keep house, care for
children, train the daughters and treat her husband like a maidservant treats a king. She
should obey him and put his will before hers, keep his minhagim (religious practices), let
him manage all spiritual issues and be "the boss" of the family and refrain from
anything he hates. She should not nag, pressure, embitter or criticize him. She should be
supportive and encouraging when he is upset, pressured or troubled; and of his work and
life mission. She should be modest in dress and demeanor. She should use her talents,
sensitivity and nature to contribute to her family and marriage (much the way a
"teammate" on a ball club contributes his unique role, abilities and position to
the good of the "team.")
"The sages said in a midrash that one wise woman directed her daughter when she
was about to marry, saying to her, 'My daughter, stand before your husband like before a
king and serve him. If you will be like a maid to him, he will be like a slave to you and
he will honor you like his master. And if you will make yourself big upon him, he will be
like a master over you against your will; and you will be, in his eyes, cheap like a
maidservant'" (Menoras HaMeor, portion "To Marry a Wife," section four,
Rambam writes that a wife must be extremely modest (especially regarding demeanor,
clothing and covering of her hair). She should minimize levity and silliness, she should
not speak on the subject of marital relations, she should not refrain from being with her
husband, especially when this will pain him. She should obey all of his words, instruction
and will. She must honor her husband exceedingly as if she views him to be an officer or
king, and she must distance herself from anything he dislikes. This, Rambam concludes, is
the way the holy women in Israel conduct themselves in their marriages, and through this,
the couple will live a beautiful life together.
MARRIAGE WISDOM FROM
CHAZAL AND GEDOLAY TORAH
Chazal, in Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta, say,
"Be humble and beloved to all, and even moreso to your own household" (chapter
three). "A house with dissention is destroyed" (chapter nine).
Tractate Taanis says, "It is obligatory that each Jew constantly train his
personality to be gentle, as it says [Ecclesiastes 11:10], 'Remove anger from your heart'
(4a)." This cryptic and fundamental Chazal tells us that 1. anger and gentleness are
opposite ends of a "midos spectrum," 2. conquering anger, and getting to a
full-time gentle temperament, is a lifelong constant task, 3. it is normal to expect that
one must work hard on removing anger and becoming gentle and 4. this is a full-time
obligation. This is especially so in marriage, where people are close and live with each
other daily. Rabbi Ada Bar Ahava was asked by his students to what he attributed an
extraordinarily long life. He answered, "I was never stern within my house
We have a rule that Torah must always be as concise as possible. When a wording in a
Torah source (e.g. Talmud or Bible) is longer than it could be, even one letter or word
longer than the minimum way of expressing the point, the Torah source is adding something.
The gemora (Bava Kama 93b) says, "A person must always be from among the persecuted
and never from the persecutors." The Kotzker Rebbe, known for his sharp and
insightful teachings asked, "Why does the gemora add the word 'always?' We are taught
the message without it!" The Kotzker explained that the gemora understands human
nature. There are people who can provoke, irritate, instigate another. The second person
reacts and then behaves like a persecutor. But, the first person, who aggravated and
provoked the second person, is really the one who "persecuted" the second person
into being a persecutor! The first one tries to blame the second one for persecution, when
the first one is the truly guilty party! Therefore, the Talmud says "ALWAYS" DO
NOT BE A PERSECUTOR - INCLUDING THE TYPE WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PERSECUTING THE SECOND
PERSON INTO BEING A PERSECUTOR OF THE FIRST PERSON!
Rabbi Shimon Shkop wrote (Shaaray Yosher) that every month when the wife immerses in
the mikva, she is reliving the wedding day, each time, on a progressively deeper and
deeper level. The wedding time is when the couple does the most to please each other.
Every month, the couple can renew and "recharge" their love on a deeper and
deeper level, throughout a lifetime.
When her husband is angry, the wife should calm him; when he is hurt, she should soothe
him; when he has been done bad to, she should comfort him; when he is worried, she should
restore him; when he is pressured, she should minimize requests; and cancel her will for
her husband (Shlaw HaKodesh). She should diminish his sadness, his worry or anything which
is hard on his heart (Shaivet Mussar).
It improves the spirituality, quality and
atmosphere of a marriage immensely when the wife dovens two times a day and attends a good
women's shiur (Torah class) at least one time a week.
When a husband comes home each day, he does not have the energy to hear his wife's
complaints about life, the kids, etc. Don't pester him; analyze his day nor interrogate
him like the FBI. Don't treat him like a child or slave. Be his wife, not his mashgiach.
Instead of nagging or criticizing, be positive; encourage and express appreciation for
good things (e.g. his Torah learning, working on his temper or sloppiness). He only need
advise you of how he spends his time in general. He need not advise you in detail where he
was and what he did every minute. Violating such principles will make a husband crazy,
make him develop habits of escaping you and make him regret coming home. Let him arrive to
a warm welcome each day. Make the effort to have an attractive physical appearance that
makes him glad he has come home and which keeps his mind off all other women. Speak
softly, sweetly, politely and from your heart. Start his time at home nicely. Let him
settle himself and regain his strength; especially after commuting, long hours or a hard
day. Be a wife he wants to come home to, be with and be pleasant to - of his own volition.
A major part of demonstrating love for a spouse is the ability to sincerely say
(especially about something that is incomprehensible or worthless to you), "If it is
important to you, it is important to me, BECAUSE YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO ME."
Each couple must have a qualified and mutually acceptable Rov to bring all questions,
problems and differences to. EVERYTHING is addressed and governed by the Torah. Adopt a
policy of, "WE DON'T HAVE FIGHTS, WE HAVE SHAALOS!"
Rabbi Forsythe can be contacted with
serious inquiries about his professional services by e-mail through this site or by
writing to Rabbi Forsythe c/o Jewish Press, 338 Third Avenue, Brooklyn NY, 11215, USA.
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