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Eishes Chayil is a song sung traditionally on Friday nights. It's the last 22 verses of Mishlei/Proverbs. It speaks about a "Woman of Valor", and literally does nothing but sing her praises. Well, almost.

Every verse is about something admirable about this woman1, except for one verse, Mishlei 31:23 (Chabad.org):

כג. נוֹדָע בַּשְּׁעָרִים בַּעְלָהּ בְּשִׁבְתּוֹ עִם זִקְנֵי אָרֶץ

23: Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits with the elders of the land.

While this is nice and all, this seems a little out of place; how is this a praise of the Woman of Valor?

Bonus points if you find an explanation of why Shlomo Hamelech chose to phrase it this way, instead of just stating her praise directly.

Yes, this is a bit of a softball. But it was a real question that I had. Best answer wins.


1: Interpreted as referring to the Jewish woman, and also to the Shabbos and the Torah.

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2  
1: ...or al pi pshat as a eulogy for Lemuel's mother (Metzudos and Ibn Ezra) –  Double AA Apr 21 '13 at 21:00
    
Why not say that it's a testament to her valor, having attracted and been wedded by a man of such standing? –  Tamir Evan 2 days ago
    
also the verse "She seeks wool and linen, and works with her hands willingly" implies she is intentionally producing shatnez –  Clint Eastwood 2 days ago

5 Answers 5

There are many interpretations. Here are a few.

  • Rashi connects the previous verse of making "beautiful bedspreads for herself; fine linen and purple wool are her raiment" with the this verse:

ניכר הוא בין חביריו מפני מלבושיו שהם נאים

He is recognizable among his peers because of his garments, which are beautiful.

The verse is not out of place, since he is known because of her handiwork.

  • Akeidat Yitzchak (Parashat Chai Sarah) equates the tzadik with his wife:

ולענין הנמשל הוא מבואר כי בעל האשה השלמה נודע בשערים, הם שערי צדק צדיקים יבואו בם לעולם החיים

The lesson is that the husband of a complete woman is known in the gates; they are the gates of righteousness that tzadikim come to in the world of the living.

  • Alsheich similarly attributes the elders's recognition of the husband with the wife:

הם הזקנים אשר בשער הסנהדרין ובתוכם נודע שהוא בעלה, כי לרוב חכמתו מכירים הכל ואומרים זה בעלה של פלונית לרוב חכמתו, שאומרים הכל הנה נודע וניכר הדבר, שזה בעלה של פלונית שזנה ופירנסה אותו ואת ביתו כדי שיעסוק בתורה שנים רבות, כי על כן הוא נודע ורשום בין זקני ארץ, כי הגדיל חכמה ובינה מאשר למד, בראותה כך מה עשתה

These elders are the ones at the gate of the Sanhedrin...and they say "This is the husband of a Mrs. X that fed and supported him and his home in order that he could engage in Torah for many years." And because of this he is known and listed among the elders of the land, since he increased in wisdom and understanding from what he learned and they thus see what she has done.

When we see the talmid chacham, Shlomo HaMelech seems to be saying, we should point to his wife, who made him what he is.

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In the Zohar it gives two related interpretations of this verse. First, the context it places this in is that this is a reference to The Jewish People as the Eishes Chayil. Within that, her husband is a reference to Hashem.

Known in the gates, the Zohar then gives two ways to understand. One is שערים related to the word השערה - estimation. We can't truly understand G-d, only have an approximate understanding.

The second is שערים as related to שעורים - measurements, that G-d creates a finite world so that we can know Him.

So it is praising the relationship between Jews and G-d.

Some elaboration here and here.

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In the olden times the judges sat at the gates. Like it says one should put judges in all your gates. A woman does not have her own 'tafkid'. Her biggest praise is that her husband has reached his through her.

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But every other pasuk is listing a praise for her, it seems that there are many praiseworthy things that a woman does that doesn't involve hee husband's accomplishments. And why is becoming a judge a man's tafkid? –  HodofHod 2 days ago

To state the answer briefly, Eishes chayil is either a hymn to the Torah or a hymn to the kollel wife. His success is her's.

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"Kollel wife" l'afukei mai? –  HodofHod 2 days ago
    
l'afukei "farmer's wife", "tinker's wife", tailor's wife, doctor's wife, professor's wife, etc. True story, my father does not sing eishes chayil because he feels it doesn't apply to his situation and talks about all the great things my mother did all week instead. –  Yitzchak 11 hours ago
    
Interesting! I've never come across this practice. You might want to consider explaining why "his success is her's" in your answer, especially for if "her" refers to the Torah. (though it may seem largely self-explanatory, it will make your answer more self-contained and approachable). Also, any sources would be very helpful. –  HodofHod 3 hours ago

I will add to meir and Yitzchak only because they didnt quote chazal. See Brachos 17a and Sota 21a, women get their zchus Torah by taking their children to yeshiva and waiting for their husbands till they return from Beis Medrash.

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What does this pasuk have to do with zchus Torah? –  HodofHod 2 days ago
    
Oh. You were under the impression that ziknei aretz meant her husband takes the old age home on a trip to the city gates. Zakein always means knowledgeable in Torah. Just like chacham throughout Shlomo Hamelech's works means Torah smarts. –  user6591 2 days ago
    
In retrospect, I should have specified that my question was mostly rhetorical, and was meant to inspire you to flesh out your answer more, to make it more useful to people who may not be very familiar with the Torah's language; for that I apologize. Right now, your answer is closer to a comment, since it does not have enough information to stand independent of meir or Yitzchaks's answers. However, your aggressive and sarcastic tone is uncalled for. –  HodofHod 2 days ago
    
I referenced them in my answer so as to give credit. I didn't mean to be aggressive and sarcastic, just funny. I was going to put a smiley but forgot. Hope this isn't too little too late. :) –  user6591 2 days ago
    
My apologies again then. :D The wonders of emoticons, eh? (As an aside, I've been on a bit of a hiatus from the site because of some of the behaviors I was seeing in comments (discussed here). I probably jumped to quickly because of that, so I'm sorry you caught what was really my reaction to the actions of others :( –  HodofHod 3 hours ago

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