Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Proverbs 31

A fellow blogger mommy posted this on Facebook the other day.  She is a Christian woman, relating what she learned about Proverbs 31 from a Jewish friend.  This passage apparently has a very different context in the two traditions.  In Judaism, this is the source of the song Eshet Chayil ("Woman of Valor"), which men traditionally sing to their wives for Shabbat, celebrating them and their accomplishments. In Christianity, many apparently take it as a to-do list for women..... Very different!

Well, as I often do when people reference the Bible, I went to look it up in context.  I found it interesting that the famous acrostic poem does NOT start at the beginning of the chapter, but only on the tenth verse.  The skipped verses are:

א  דִּבְרֵי, לְמוּאֵל מֶלֶךְ--    מַשָּׂא, אֲשֶׁר-יִסְּרַתּוּ אִמּוֹ.1 The words of king Lemuel; the burden wherewith his mother corrected him.
ב  מַה-בְּרִי, וּמַה-בַּר-בִּטְנִי;    וּמֶה, בַּר-נְדָרָי.2 What, my son? and what, O son of my womb? and what, O son of my vows?
ג  אַל-תִּתֵּן לַנָּשִׁים חֵילֶךָ;    וּדְרָכֶיךָ, לַמְחוֹת מְלָכִין.3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.
ד  אַל לַמְלָכִים, לְמוֹאֵל--אַל לַמְלָכִים שְׁתוֹ-יָיִן;    וּלְרוֹזְנִים, או (אֵי) שֵׁכָר.4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine: nor for princes to say: 'Where is strong drink?'
ה  פֶּן-יִשְׁתֶּה, וְיִשְׁכַּח מְחֻקָּק;    וִישַׁנֶּה, דִּין כָּל-בְּנֵי-עֹנִי.5 Lest they drink, and forget that which is decreed, and pervert the justice due to any that is afflicted.
ו  תְּנוּ-שֵׁכָר לְאוֹבֵד;    וְיַיִן, לְמָרֵי נָפֶשׁ.6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul;
ז  יִשְׁתֶּה, וְיִשְׁכַּח רִישׁוֹ;    וַעֲמָלוֹ, לֹא יִזְכָּר-עוֹד.7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. 
ח  פְּתַח-פִּיךָ לְאִלֵּם;    אֶל-דִּין, כָּל-בְּנֵי חֲלוֹף.8 Open thy mouth for the dumb, in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
ט  פְּתַח-פִּיךָ שְׁפָט-צֶדֶק;    וְדִין, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן.9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. 

The first verse announces that this entire section is the King's mother instructing him in being a good king.  It is, start to finish, a woman's voice speaking to a powerful man, lovingly guiding him in reaching his full potential as a powerful, spiritual being.  And what is it that she tells him?

1. Don't be a womanizer!
2. Learn from the examples of others to avoid ruin.
3. Don't get drunk.  You are a powerful man, and alcohol will undermine your ability to fulfill your duties honorably.

So far, pretty straightforward advice. but she pushes on:

4. Rather than drinking yourself, give drink to the poor and suffering, to help them forget their misery.
5. Speak up for those who have no voice, who have been written off by society.
6. Speak up for justice, for all those who are poor and needy.

While the first three can be seen as selfishly good advice for living a happy, wholesome life, this set of instructions admonish the King to go beyond living honorably.  As one who is in a position of power, he must be proactive in using that awesome power for good.  He must seek out those who are suffering and have no voice, alleviate their suffering, speak up for them, and act on their behalf.

And how is he to do all this? The King's mother knows full well both the temptations of the world (1-3) and the daunting magnitude of standing up for the downtrodden (4-6).  Don't try to do it alone, she tells him:

י  אֵשֶׁת-חַיִל, מִי יִמְצָא;    וְרָחֹק מִפְּנִינִים מִכְרָהּ.10 A woman of valour who can find? for her price is far above rubies.
יא  בָּטַח בָּהּ, לֵב בַּעְלָהּ;    וְשָׁלָל, לֹא יֶחְסָר.11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, and he hath no lack of gain.
יב  גְּמָלַתְהוּ טוֹב וְלֹא-רָע--    כֹּל, יְמֵי חַיֶּיהָ.12 She doeth him good and not evil all the days of her life.

And THAT is the context for Eshet Chayil.

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