As Mishlei sums up this matter in an earlier chapter (18:22): “He who finds a wife finds good, and he obtains favor from Hashem!”
Her Value Is Far Greater than Pearls
The connection to the first part of the verse is now obvious. After a search, one realizes that a wife is far more valuable than all of the possible wealth in the world.
People tend to misjudge the value of the marriage relationship. A person may feel if he had made enough money, he could buy most of the services that he would need and manage without marriage. But Hashem knows better. “It is not good for man to be alone!” A wife is the “good” helpmate that is that is the greatest find he will ever discover. Let him make the best of it and utilize the opportunity fully by appreciating Hashem’s gift to him in fulfillment of the verse: ‘Rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Mishlei 5:18). If you have the right attitude and you work on understanding and appreciating Hashem’s ways, you will have cause to rejoice endlessly. However, one who rejects a pious and wise woman fails the test and loses the greatest wealth.
First, this verse obligates us to continuously pray to Hashem for assistance in “finding.” Tehillim (32:6) teaches: ‘Let every pious person pray to You at a time of finding.” The Gemara (Berachos 8a) explains: “At the time of finding a wife.” Thus, we must pray first to find the right partner and then continue to pray all of our lives that we should appreciate the fantastic find that Hashem has provided for us.
Second, Berachos (8a) teaches that the Sages would ask everyone, soon after they were married, whether they had “found” a wife or whether they were “finding” a wife. This is explained as referring to either of these verses:
“One who found a wife has found goodness” (Mishlei 18:22)
“I find more bitter than death a woman” (Koheles 7:26)
This is puzzling. What is the purpose of the question? The Vilna Gaon explains that the difference lies in the tense of the word “found” or “finding.” The verse in Mishlei is worded in the past tense, whereas the verse in Koheles is worded in the present tense. This teaches us that our happiness is in our hands! If we decide to appreciate the great find that Hashem has bestowed on us, we are fortunate. However, one who is still seeking will find trouble. We must open our eyes and rejoice!
Her husband trusts her wholeheartedly, and (as a result) he does not lack any treasure. (31:11)
The word for trust (bitachon) is usually used in connection with trusting in Hashem. Thus, we may wonder why this verse considers it appropriate for a husband to put his trust in his wife?
This issue becomes even more surprising when we study the initial instruction Hashem gives man in regard to his relationship with his wife: “Therefore a man should forsake his father and his mother, and should cling (davak) to his wife, and they should become [as] one flesh” (Bereshis 2:24). The word “cling” is the same as that used in reference to “cling” to Hashem (Devarim 10:20). A man is instructed to form a bond with his wife to the degree that they become as inseparable as if they were one person.
Thus, man’s reliance on his wife is a directive (mitzvah) of the Torah, which teaches them to form a union. Together, as one unit, they trust solely in Hashem Who created them both and made them for each other.
The emphasis that he trusts her with his heart indicates that it is not mere logical trust, but one that is deeply rooted in his emotions as well.
The Torah’s emphasis “They shall be as one flesh” and the Gemara’s expression “His wife is as his body” (Berachos 24a) indicate that a husband should consider his wife as actually apart of himself. Thus, his feelings towards her supersede, in a certain sense, even his relationship with his parents.
Why does the Torah describe marriage as “forsaking one’s parents” (Bereishis 2:24), when the Torah itself teaches as one of the Ten Commandments the obligation to always honor one’s parents? The answer is that your spouse is like you, and your care for yourself in a fulfillment of honoring your parents, who desire your completion and achievements in perfecting yourself.
No Lack of Treasure
Hashem’s gift of a mate is designed to provide countless benefits. We are expected to consider the many benefits and to be as appreciative and excited as one who finds infinite treasure!
The word shalal (treasure) usually refers to spoils that are gained by a victor in battle or an unexpected gain. She fulfills his expectations and then much more than he was able to imagine.
Good and Not Bad
She provides him with good and not bad, all the days of her life. (31:12)
How do we imagine a person so virtuous as to never cause someone harm? Is she an angel?
This refers us to the unique capacity inherent in a wife. The Torah reveals Hashem’s miracle of a woman serving as a “helpmate opposite him” (eizer k’negdo)(Bereishis 2:18). Only the Great Designer could fashion a help that serves also as an opposite. A man and his wife perfect each other through their differences. They were not made alike: “Women are a people to themselves” (Shabbos 62a). Each has his/her own ways and attributes, and each is intended by Hashem to serve as a test to the other. Each complements the other, so that each one can harmonize and develop his/her potential to the fullest in the service of Hashem. Thus, even a contentious wife is a precious gift from Heaven, meant as a test in the service of Hashem (as the Gemara illustrates in Yevamos 63).
When we understand the benefits intended by Hashem even from the seeming bad that occurs in this world, we realize that it is not bad at all. A challenge is good, for it helps elevate and perfect a person when he approaches life with the attitudes taught by the Torah.
The first three verses are a general introduction to the subject.
A wife is:
1. the greatest treasure one can find, 2. reliable and trustworthy,
3. all good.
We continue now by itemizing some of her specific attributes in detail.
She seeks [to buy] Wool and Linen
She seeks [to buy] wool and linen, and she manufactures [does] them with willing hands. (31:13)
The word used here for seek (doreish) is generally used for seeking Hashem. We understand that a virtuous woman’s efforts, even in her daily tasks, are performed with the pure intentions of doing Hashem’s will. She is always serving Hashem by building a loyal home of service for Hashem. Thus, working with wool and linen is not an interruption from the service of Hashem, but rather an intrinsic part of the service. It is a form of seeking Hashem because it is done for His sake.
The phrase “and she does” (va’ta;as) is reminiscent of the expression “to do” (la’asos) in Bereishis (2:3), where Hashem ceased from the work He had created “to do.” The addition of “to do” includes the lesson that Hashem prepared the world for man to take over and do. He is responsible to develop the world and use it for the service of Hashem.
She Seeks Out Wool and Linen
This reference includes her concern to fulfill the prohibition against using materials that are combined of wool and linen – shatnes (VaYikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11). A person looking for a suitable garment will check the fabric, style, size, and many other considerations. But the Torah instructs us to consider the separation of wool and linen as a primary consideration. A Jew places this issue at the top of his list.
With Willing Hands
This Torah attitude is taught in the Talmud (Nedarim 19b): “How great is work!” The Mishnah (Avos, ch. 1) also inspires us to “love work!”
We may ask why we begin with her efforts for clothing before that of food? There is an underlying explanation for the prohibition of shatnes (mixed wool and linen) that teaches a perspective for everything else that we do in life. Pirkei D’ Rebbe Eliezer (ch. 20) teaches that the offering of Cain contained flax (Bereishis 4:3), whereas the offering from Abel was from sheep, which included their wool. Cain’s offering was not accepted by Hashem, and he subsequently became the first to shed human blood. Thus, the prohibition against wearing shatnes includes the symbolic lesson that the offerings of Cain and Abel must not even mingle in the weave of a garment. In order to succeed in life, we must keep in mind the principle that one should not mingle with those of lesser virtue.
The way we dress and clothing we wear remind us of the need to stay apart, so that even when we go out to earn our daily bread, we follow the Torah’s guidance for all of our endeavors.
As a Merchant’s Ship
She was a merchant’s ship, bringing her bread even from a distance. (31:14)
What is the meaning of this metaphor? A ship may need to travel from place to place, even to great distances, to accumulate its load. It may also need to search for appropriate sources in order to secure adequate profits. The virtuous wife is also committed to her tasks in a determined way, to do whatever is required of her and more.
Bringing Her Bread
The process of obtaining bread is demanding: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” (Bereishis 3:19). One of the reasons for this requirement is that it helps protect one from sin (Avos 2:2). Thus, it is an ideal that she is actively involved in positive causes to avoid “idleness which leads to immorality” (Kesubos 39b). Toiling for a livelihood is referred to as the yoke of derech eretz (worldly responsibilities) (Avos 3:5), which also means decent behavior.
While It Was Still Night
And she arose while it was still night, to give food to her household and a portion to her servants.
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) relates this verse to “And Avraham arose early in the morning” (Bereishis 22:3). The righteous are energetic to rise as soon as possible to serve Hashem with alacrity. She rose at an early hour to supervise her household personally in accordance with the principle of “The energetic hasten early to do mitzvos” (Pesachim), and “It is more of a mitzvah to do it personally rather than through an agent” (Kiddushin 41a).
And She Gave Food
The words for food here, teref and chok, are a reference to Mishlei 30:8 where Shlomo HaMelech prays to Hashem for his basic needs. He pleads that Hashem should not make him too poor or too rich. He then concludes with the phrase hatrifeini lechem chuki0 provide me with the proper amount for my daily needs. A righteous woman stays in control of the situation to distribute her food supplies in a rational manner.
In addition, the word teref implies procured in a sudden manner (see Bereishis 8:11 and Yoma 39a, the first word of the Mishnah.) This indicates that one should always acknowledge that his food is a direct gift from Hashem, as if it had just appeared on your table through Hashem’s unlimited kindness.
She planned to obtain a field and she bought it; from the fruit of her hands, she planted a vineyard.
This verse seems strange to us. When we see a virtuous woman involved in producing clothing in verse 4 or food in verse 5, we understand it as appropriate activities. However, here she seems to embark on money-making ventures that seem out of place for a righteous woman. Yet, we must realize that her approach is to serve Hashem sincerely in every possible manner. When she can make investments that will help in the long run, she is involved with the same alacrity and single-minded devotion that she invests in her daily tasks.
The word zamemah implies that she planned and maintained a savings program though constant thrift in order to accumulate sufficient savings to purchase a field.
She Planted a Vineyard
A vineyard has a prominent place in her program because its product, wine, is useful in promoting good deeds. When wine is used properly, as for Kiddush, Havdalah, wedding celebrations, Bris Milah, etc., it encourages the service to Hashem. “ Wine is called tirosh because if one uses it meritoriously, it assists in elevating him to a leadership position (rosh); but if it is misused, he becomes a pauper (raish)” (Sanhedrin 70a).
After the Great Flood, Noach began his agricultural rebuilding of the world by planting a vineyard. His intentions were surely virtuous, but he is still criticized for not beginning first with another plant, due to the potential risk with wine (Rashi, Bereishis 9:20). Thus, the virtuous woman, who has learned the Torah’s lessons from Noach, begins with another field and then plants a vineyard.
She girds her loins with strength, and her arms with power. (31:17)
Although she has many children and many servants (as noted in v.15), she utilizes her own self in the service of Hashem. Her valor invigorates her entire body to join personally in the privilege of using her limbs energetically for Hashem’s sake.
As she continues to amass assets, she finds it necessary to gird herself in order to maintain her balance and to protect against the potential temptations that emerge with success. The Talmud uses the expression of this verse in regard to clinging to Torah scholars (Shabbos 63a). It indicates the fortification necessary to combat negative influences and to further one’s advancement in positive causes. Rashi says: “Cling to a Torah scholar, for eventually you will benefit from his teachings.”
We also learn that initially a person must struggle to accomplish a good deed. Mitzvos, as a matter of course, do not come easily. It is only when one perseveres and does his best that Hashem assists the person and helps him succeed.
She tasted the goodness of her efforts; she did not extinguish her light at night. (31:18)
Previously in verse 6, we spoke of her rising early, while still dark, to begin her program. Now we proceed to explain that when she sees success in her efforts, she continues to advance full speed ahead. This is the principle of mitzvah gorgers mitzvah (Avos 4:2) – one good deed leads to another.
Furthermore, the Moiré explains that the taste of success tends to throw people off the proper track. Thus, this verse emphasizes that although she was successful and grew wealthy, she did not become lazy and relax from her efforts. Her lights are still shining at night as she continues to produce.
She stretches out her hands to her spinning (visitor), and her palms support her spindle (palace).
Although she is involved in commerce and in business endeavors, she does not neglect domestic arts (spinning, weaving, sewing).
The word visitor also means “with kashrus” Vilna Gaon). She stretches out her hands with attention to all the laws of keeping kosher that pertain to all of one’s actions. Her efforts are in accordance with all of the laws of the Torah.
The word palace is used in Yoma (66b): “A woman’s wisdom is at her palace.” Her unique skills are typified be the ability to build from scratch. She is able to manufacture threads and develop garments. This capacity carries into all aspects of life. She is the expert at building her family, society, and the entire Jewish nation.
Her palm she spreads to a poor person, and her hands are extended to the very poor. (31:20)
The word literally means to “break off.” She even shares from her own portion of bread by breaking off a piece for others.
Her Hands She Sends to the Very Needy
Why does is say she “sends” (sheltie) her hands? Pirkei Avos (5:13) teaches that the highest level of giving is to say: “Mine is yours and yours is yours.” We can explain “She sends her hands to the poor” as to say “They are yours.”
She does not fear the snow for her household, for her entire household is clothed in wool. (31:21)
She prepares fine bedspreads for herself, linen and purple wool for her garments. (31:22)
Her husband is famous in gatherings, as he sits with the elders of the land. (31:23)
Garments she would make to sell, and belts she would give to merchants. (31:24)
Strength and glory are her garments, and she rejoices in expectancy of her last day. (31:25)
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teachings of kindliness are on her tongue. (31:26)
There is a requirement here for a person to utilize the skills of an actor. Even if a person does not feel up to it internally, it is essential to always speak only that which is wise and kind.
She watches the ways of her house, and she does not eat the bread of idleness. (31:27)
To the Ways of Her House
Countless issues are included in “the ways” that she supervises. Safety is one of the prime requirements of a Jewish home and way of life. “Do not put blood upon your home” (Devarim 22:8), which refers to a failure to put up adequate safety railings. Parents must be on guard against many similar situations in order to prevent and mishap from occurring.
She Does Not Eat the Bread of Idleness
Her supervision extends to all aspects of her household. As an example, we refer to the preparation of bread, which is the staff of life. Specifically, we are taught, “If there is no flour, there is no Torah” (Avos 3:21). Thus, she is energetic in preparing bread with realization that it is not merely a material meal but that it supplies the greatest spiritual benefits.
Her children arose and praised her, her husband [also arose] and praised her enthusiastically. (31:28)
It is a mitzvah to rise in honor of our parents. It is also certainly a mitzvah to praise them. Clayey Adam (call 67) explains that there are three parts to obligation of honoring parents: action, word, and thought. The Talmud relates that when Rebbe Josef would hear his mother’s footsteps, he would say: “I shall rise in honor of the Shoeshine (Divine Presence).” Thus, he would combine aspects of action (rising), speaking, and thinking. The more we consider greatness and importance in our parents, the more we will be fulfilling our obligation in this matter.
The husband’s moral obligation to pay his unlimited debt of gratitude to his wife is fulfilled in a small way be singing her praises all the time. Studying her praises and voicing them enthusiastically is a minimal form of hakaras hatov (gratitude).
Mosaic of Praise
Many daughters have achieved valor, but you (v’at) have surpassed them all. (31:29)
There are people who excel in one or more of the above qualities. But we are referring to one who excels in all of them. This is one of the purposes of alef-beis sequence of these verses. The virtuous wife is compared to the Torah; thus, she is praised with all twenty-two letters on the Hebrew alphabet, which forms all the words of the Torah.
The twenty-two praises compose a mosaic of perfection. She is lauded with all the praises possible. In order to be sure that we do not omit any commendations, we must use every letter, for God initially created the Torah composed of the letters of the alef-beis and subsequently utilized the Torah as the blueprint for the creation of the universe.
Charm is false, and beauty is vain, a woman who fears Hashem is to be praised. (31:30)
Why did Hashem provide exceptional physical to Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Yoseif (see Bereishis 12:14, 24:16, 29:17, 39:6) if it is not considered praiseworthy? We realize that these were people who achieved perfection in their fear of Hashem. Hashem granted them external beauty in order to advertise their unique virtue, as one who puts jewels into an expensive box to highlight the value of the contents. Give her from the fruit of her hands, and praise her at public gatherings for her deeds.
Her actions speak for themselves. We do not have to fabricate material with which to praise her. This verse underscores one of the primary themes of these twenty-two verses.
“Say little and do much” (Avos 1:15). She is not even depicted as talking until verse 26. She is constant motion, in the performance of good deeds. She is energetic and active.
Although her speech in verse 26 only consists of wisdom and kindness, we still wait until now before mentioning it. The priorities of the Torah are paramount in her life, and we learn from her how to gauge our efforts.
“Say little and do much.” This is her motto!
May each of us merit to appreciate and emulate the infinite attributes of the true eishes chayil – the woman of valor in our lives.
Rabbeinu Bachya, in his introduction to the last Parasha of the Torah (VeZos HaBerachah), elaborates on the lessons from Eishes Chayil.
We learn mussar and derech eretz to search for a good wife, who will serve as the foundation of one’s home and to build a proper edifice.
A good wife, who has all of the good character traits, encompasses the entire Torah, for she is his assistant for success in Torah and Mitzvos, just as the body assists the soul to serve Hashem.
May we all aspire to these qualities of energy to serve Hashem in every possible way, as we find with all of the great personalities of Tanach, Talmud, and throughout our glorious history.
– Exert from: Gems from Mishlei