Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eshet Chayil

I had to give a dvar torah at a "shabbat kalah" meal. (Yes, really. My excuse is that I was a witness on the couple's prenuptial agreement, as was the other male invited.) Here is the non-personal part of the dvar torah, based on my notes from before shabbat (it took a long time to think of something appropriate to say)


There's a phrase that we use to describe a woman with great moral character, which is "eshet chayil". It's not a new phrase; in fact it's been in use for more than 3000 years by now.

The first recorded usage is in Megillat Ruth, where Boaz uses the phrase to refer to Ruth. When she meets him at night in the field, he says to her:

כי יודע כל שער עמי, כי אשת חיל את

You might wonder what the male equivalent of "eshet chayil" is. If you replace "isha" with "gever" you get "gever chayil", which is a phrase that nobody ever uses. But a very similar phrase is used to describe Boaz:

ולנעמי מידע (מודע) לאישה, איש גבור חיל ממשפחת אלימלך, ושמו בעז.

You might have thought that "gibor chayil" means being a great military hero, but that's probably not the case here. First of all, an "eshet chayil" is not fighting any wars, so why should a "gibor chayil" be any different? Chayil in Megillat Ruth does not seem to military stuff. Second of all, we never see Boaz fighting a war, but we do see him doing all sorts of nice and moral things, just like you would expect from an "eshet chayil". And it would be totally irrelevant to the plotline to say that Boaz is a soldier, but it's very relevant to say he's a moral person. For these reasons I think "gibor chayil" has a primarily non-military meaning, at least in this book.

So in summary, there is one place in the Megillah where Ruth is called an "eshet chayil", one place where Boaz is called a "gibor chayil". It is no accident that the "eshet chayil" ends up marrying the "gibor chayil".

(And hear I descended into mushiness...)

If you are unmarried and know me, please forget what you just read, I may someday want to use this at or around your wedding. :)

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