Question: What is the Eshet Chayil (A Woman of Valor) hymn?
Answer: A Woman of Valor, called Eshet Chayil in Hebrew, is a hymn which is customarily recited on Friday evenings, after returning from synagogue and singing "Shalom Aleichem" and before sitting down to the Shabbat evening meal.
Eshet Chayil is a twenty-two verse poem with which King Solomon concludes the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31). The poem has an acrostic arrangement in which the verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order. The poem describes the woman of valor as one who are is energetic, righteous, and capable.
According to Aggadic Midrashim (interpretation of the non-legal portions of the Hebrew Bible), the poem was originally composed by Abraham as a eulogy for his wife Sarah.
According to Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, the poem is a reference to the Shabbat Queen, the spiritual soul-mate of the Jewish nation.
According to commentators, the poem is allegorical. A Woman of Valor has been interpreted as a reference to the Shechinah (Divine presence), the Shabbat, the Torah, wisdom, and the soul. Using Jewish women as the vehicle through which to describe these spiritual manifestations is a tribute to her.
It has become a Jewish custom for men to recite this hymn at the end of the week, and thus to think about and be thankful for all his wife has done for him and their family throughout the past week.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza v'rachok mip'ninim michrah
An accomplished woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls.
Batach bah lev ba'lah v'shalal lo yechsar
Her husband's heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune.
G'malathu tov v'lo ra kol y'mei chayeiha
She does him good and not evil, all the days of her life.
Darshah tzemer ufishtim vata'as b'chefetz kapeiha
She seeks wool and flax, and works with her hands willingly.
Haitah ko'oniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachmah
She is like the merchant ships, she brings her bread from afar.
Vatakom b'od lailah vatiten teref l'vetah v'chok l'na'aroteiha
She arises while it is still night, and gives food to her household and a portion to her maidservants.
Zam'mah sadeh vatikachehu mip'ri chapeiha nat'ah karem
She plans for a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
Chagrah v'oz motneiha vat'ametz zro'oteiha
She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong.
Ta'amah ki tov sachrah lo yichbeh balailah nerah
She knows that her merchandise is good. Her candle does not go out at night.
Yadeha shilchah vakishor v'chapeiha tamchu felech
She sets her hands to the distaff, and holds the spindle in her hands.
Kapah parsah le'ani v'yadeiha shil'chah la'evyon
She extends her hands to the poor, and reaches out her hand to the needy.
Lo tira l'vetah mishaleg ki chol betah lavush shanim
She fears not for her household because of snow, because her whole household is warmly dressed.
Marvadim astah lah shesh v'argaman l'vushah
She makes covers for herself, her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Noda bash'arim ba'lah b'shivto im ziknei aretz
Her husband is known at the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
Sadin astah vatimkor vachagor natnah lak'na'ani
She makes a cloak and sells it, and she delivers aprons to the merchant.
Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon
Strength and honor are her clothing, she smiles at the future.
Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her tongue.
Tzofi'ah halichot betah v'lechem atzlut lo tochel
She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Kamu vaneha vay'ash'ruha ba'lah vay'hal'lah
Her children rise and praise her, her husband lauds her.
Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah
Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.
Sheker hachen v'hevel hayofi ishah yir'at Hashem hi tit'halal
Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears God shall be praised.
T'nu lah mip'ri yadeiha vihal'luha vash'arim ma'aseha
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.