Introduction to the Mystical level of studying Aishet Chayil on Shavuot
Excerpted from the Aishet Chayil printable e-book (2020) available here: https://www.school.thenexus.org/courses/aishet-chayil
This series began years ago with my fascination as why the midrash correlates each verse to a different woman in Torah.
The Aishet Chayil poem was written by Shlomo HaMelech for his mother, Bas-Sheva, and expresses the treasured place of women in Torah. Thus, understanding the Aishet Chayil is an important part of my mission in putting words to what our role is as women specifically living in our times, bs”d, and how we can unearth these treasures.
It is uncanny how the names surrounding the Coronavirus have everything to do with our topic. Let me explain.
The Aishet Chayil is called a “crown” to her husband, as noted above. “Corona” comes from the root “to coronate” and means a crown.
Covid is phonetically identical to Kavod, as we say every day after we say Shema, “Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuso L’Olam Va’ed”, “may His Kingship reign forever and ever”. Kavod Shamayim, then, is the goal of the messianic process.
And finally, 19 is the numerical value of the name Eve, Chava ח = 8 ו = 6 ה = 5. That means that on a microcosmic level, the rectification of our femininity must play an important role in the Divine unfolding of Hashem’s plan for history. On a macrocosmic level, the entire Jewish people are said to be the “feminine” player in the partnership of creation, so this would refer to the Jewish people as a whole. Read my mystical introduction for a deeper understanding of these frameworks.
There we have it: Corona and Covid 19.
In summary, we have a mandate to use our power as Jewish women to grow through Torah and thereby reveal K’vod Malchus shamayim in the world, and by so doing, rectify – the complete archetype of all femininity. It is the Aishet Chayil who does this so well. This is her very essence.
As women, we are both an analogy for the Jewish people as a whole as well as the actual female members of our nation. Everything that is true on one level is also true on the other level.
May Hashem guide us in learning everything we need to know to serve Him best, through the following verses.
Introduction to the Mystical level of studying Aishet Chayil on Shavuot
[Note: Wherever the mystical level of interpretation is employed in this book, I have indicated it by use of italics, and you can skip if you want to remain on the level of the simple and midrashic (homiletical) interpretations only.]
The Aishet Chayil concept is so much more that you could ever have imagined. On its simple plane of understanding, it is filled with promise as the paragon of spiritual beauty that a Jewish woman strives for. On the mystical level, a whole other world opens us for us.
A word about the Torah’s four dimensions before I write this very preliminary introduction, (which doesn’t pretend to do justice to the depth of this topic in the context of a short e-book).
We access the inner depth of the poem through each of its pristine verses by entering the four layers of Torah, being “pshat, remez, drush and sod” (פרדס – Pardes), which refers to the revealed meaning (pshat), the hinted meaning (remez), the homiletical meaning (midrash) and the secret dimension (sod).)
On the one hand, Torah, without being connected to its innermost secret dimension, lacks its deepest meaning. For this reason, Pardes without the final letter ,סוד, secret, spells Pered, פרד, which means “mule”, an infertile beast. One cannot inspire the next generation without developing one’s deepest relationship to Torah ourselves. On the other hand, Sod that is severed from the other layers of Torah becomes unstable like the super-charged electrons of an improperly bonded molecule. Deep Torah without the firm foundations of the revealed Torah (including halacha) is similarly problematic. The ultimate reason why we enter the Torah’s secrets are to bring us back to its simplicity: to serve Hashem. Therefore, we need have clarity about from what level we are looking at the text at a given time, as its meaning completely changes depending on our perspective/ vantage point in these four levels of interpretation. It is important to maintain this clarity of the distinctness of each layer as we go through.
The mystical layer of my commentary follows the writings of R’ Moshe Dovid Valli, teacher of the Ramchal, on his commentary to Mishlei. Chava was the very first woman to appear at the dawn of history. To make a long story short, sadly, she was also the entrance through which sin, and death on its heels, entered the world (this is a simplification that will suffice for now – what exactly happened and how this paints the picture of everything we need to know specifically at this time of history as women is the subject of my first course in the Rise! series,” Chava”.) The important point for now is that the Aishet Chayil, woman of valor, has gone way past these tainted beginnings and spins a new story of feminine rectification and perfection.
This is where we come in, beH!
While Chava was the composite soul of all women ever to issue from her, the 19 women in Torah (and many, many more great women unnamed in the midrash) all repaired different aspects of her brokenness, 19 being the numerical value of her name.
Caveat: Before I continue, I would like to reiterate that all anthropomorphisms when referring to Hashem are only an analogy. Hashem’s essence defies all human conception and the deeper Torah teachings make use of them to help us grasp what we otherwise couldn’t. The goal for making the seemingly “human” parallels/ mashalim is that the more we come to know Hashem and understand His Torah, the more we come to love and fear Him and thereby deepen our Avoda (service) of Him. It is with this intention that I share the mystical meaning of the text.
Second Caveat: Though we will be delineating two aspects of G-d, (called in Chasiddus, קודשה בריך הוא ושכינתא Hakadosh Baruch Hu and שכינתא, His Shechina), we also know that He is absolutely One and there is no splitting within Him at all.
I pray that our learning be “oleh yaffa”, rise up to His throne and be found pleasing to Hashem, and that it bring us closer to Him as a community of women in Klal Yisroel. May He protect us from any misconception or misapplication. I recommend my school, thenexus.org for a solid foundations and correct applications of all I will be alluding to in the mystical meaning of the poem.]
Without further ado 😊
The Supernal Aishet Chayil
The mystical Torah sources teach that corresponding to the rectified woman below, there is a parallel feminine concept, Above. We call this the Shechina, Hashem’s feminine Presence. This Supernal Aishet Chayil models the perfect expression of femininity in how she “mothers” Her children (us mortals on earth), and how She reveals Hashem’s transcendence in the world, in the most immanent of ways. Therefore, She is also known as Hashem’s Malchut (the manifestation of Hashem in the world). This is why when I speak of the Supernal Aishet Chayil, Hashem’s Feminine Aspect, I have tried to use a capital H, though Hashem Himself is beyond all gender, as He has no form.
In this book, the Shechina doubles up as the SUPERNAL Aishet Chayil. It is an incredibly inspiring and uplifting paradigm through which to realize the importance of our work as women and how beloved that is to Hashem. Though a thorough handling of this topic is beyond the scope of this short book written in the space of about a week (miracles!) I believe that as you go through the verses, (if you choose to study the italics,) you will start to get a feel of how this is all applied. Listen also to my free intro class, The Lost Princess to the Chava series.
The Aishet Chayil and Torah
The Aishet Chayil Above (Supernal Aishet Chayil) is also the root from whence our neshamot (souls) derive. It is for this reason that the conglomeration of Israel is called a “woman” אם , mother, as in the source pool for all the offshoots of Divinity defined as actual Jews living in this world. This is incredibly profound! It is as if there is one continuum of light, and all the mystical teachings are just defining its “packaging”, or vessels, along the way. Thus, when we connect to our deepest core, we are connecting to the Shechina and can feel G-d’s presence within. This is why the Sefer Tanya calls each a Jew a “piece of Hashem” Himself. Were we to live on this level all the time, collectively as a people, we would bring an end to the darkness and live in a state of constant personal redemption.
I hope that I am painting the picture of how amazing it is that the Jewish woman represents all this. Hashem certainly believes in our potential as women, as an analogy to His Feminine Presence, to effect tikkun in the world. We are His partners when we connect to this place within.
This paradigm is further clinched for us when Rashi, the Vilna Goan and others explain that all 22 verses of the Aishet Chayil poem are actually alluding to praises of the Torah itself. Thus the woman is the analogy for the Torah, too. This is some of the depth that underlies King Solomon’s poem.
Now let us consider the special connection the Aishet Chayil has to Shavuot, the festival of the receiving of the Torah, which is compared to a woman.
A woman’s most essential gift after she ascends her ladder of growth and performs her own rectification, thereby coming into her full maturity, is called Bina, “understanding”.
As you must know already, there are fifty gates of Binah.
This is the secret meaning of “Aishet Chayil, WHO can find, מי ימצא? . “Who” is numerically 50, the 50 gates of Bina! מ + י = 40+10 = 50 This is why the Torah is given on the fiftieth day. When we reach this level of true Binah, we will have “risen” into emulating the “Supernal” Aishet Chayil on High. This is what it means to rise! into our Aishet Chayil and is done through our connection to Torah. Only then do we ourselves truly become the apt analogy for Torah, and are able to assist in the expression of Malchut (Hashem’s Kingship) in the world.
This is the purpose why He gave the Jewish people the Torah. The Vilna Goan points out that Chayil, “valor”, equals 48 = חיל , in Gematria (numerical value), because this process happens through the 49 days of the Omer as we prepare to receive the Torah! That is also why there are 48 ways to acquire the Torah (Avot 6:6). (The 49th day being the “kolel”, a review and summary of them all)!
The woman who encompasses all the 19 other great women (and is also included among the 19 women mentioned in this poem) is King’s Shlomos’s mother, Bat-Sheva. Bat-Sheva means “a daughter of seven” – an allusion to the seven weeks of anticipation and preparation for Shavuot. Each week of the Omer rectifies a different angle of the diamond. Bat-Sheva was the epitome of perfection in that she had repaired all seven dimensions, including the seven sub-dimensions within them (equaling 49, of course). May we continue to rise and grow into our Binah, the “crown” we wear when we are connected to Torah, and glow with true spiritual beauty, in service of Hashem.
The Jewish people are called G-d’s bride, His Aishet Chayil. By living up to our potential as Jewish women and continuing to grow through Torah, we help bring the Shechina to earth and make G-d’s Kingship manifest. ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד Blessed is the name of the Kavod (honor) of His Kingship forever and ever. May the pandemic soon end and bring the ultimate healing to the world. May we merit to experience the connection between Am Yisroel and Hashem, the true Aishet Chayil and her Husband, and may Klal Yisroel become the Crowning Jewel in creation, as He intended.