Thursday, September 15, 2005

Eishes Hayil

Chancellor Ismar Schorsch of the Jewish Theological Seminary writes the following towards the beginning of his comments on this week's Torah reading:

I grew up in a household where my father sang with gusto the well-known tribute from Proverbs 31:10–31 to my mother each week. The ritual afforded him a sacred respite to reaffirm his affection and esteem for his soul mate in front of his children. Like him, I have intoned that ancient love song to my own beloved for forty-five years. Not only does the ritual encourage one to express what the pace of the week inhibits, but the declaration assures children that the love of their parents is undiminished.
I believe that he is mistaken about the reason for reciting Eishes Hayil.

The recitation of Eishes Hayil (Proverbs 31:10-31) is not a tribute to the woman of the house, the faithful ballebusta, who slaved hard to prepare the house for Shabbos. Not that she doesn't deserve praise, but Eishes Hayil is not it. Eishes Hayil was introduced by sixteenth kabbalists as a reference to Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of God. This is widely documented, and in my laziness I will just quote from the Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefillos (Ashkenaz, vol. 1 p. 616):
Afterwards without interruption he should say Eishes Hayil from the beginning to the end, corresponding to the Shekhinah that is kabbalistically hinted at, as is known to those who know kabbalah (yod'ei hen). It has 22 verses corresponding to the 22 channels from above that are open and emptying plentitude and blessing from the upper blessing, from the head of all crowns.
The passage itself in Proverbs is explained by its commentators as being an allegory for Torah or the nation of Israel, but its insertion into the Shabbos pre-kiddush liturgy is of kabbalistic origin. Its explanation is clearly not the mundane (but well-deserved) appreciation of the hard-working wife.

Two online links about this: R. Shlomo Riskin, Ben Ish Hai (par. 29)

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