Aishet Chayal: Not a Dating Ad

The desire and expectation to read everything literally discourages, no, it actually prevents, any kind of critical thinking and a mature understanding of Judaism. Similarly, treating Gemara as the source and raw material for The Rule Book yields a half-literate, superstitious and confomity-bound traditional religious leadership rather than the creative, compassionate and spiritual inspirers we so desperately need. Years of “learning Torah” are wasted when the basic understanding that Talmud is supposed to teach and train us how to break codes, make us all experienced inductive reasoners, both able and eager to go beyond the superficial. We talk about an omniscient God, but then try to approach and build a relationship with Him unwilling to meet him half-way by becoming as wise and intellectually adroit as we, each of us to our maximum potential, can be.

To even begin to recognize and understand and be enriched by the poetry of Torah, we need to assume that just as Torah reflects the Infinite God (Torah v’Kidshu Brich-He Chad HeymTorah and God are One), it need must exist simultaneously on many, perhaps infinite, levels of meaning. Traditional Torah study is based on the PaRDeS model, Pshat–simple, surface meaning, Remez–hinting at deeper, non-obvious meanings and relationships (gematria, numerology based on the number values of the Hebrew alphabet and the similarity and relationship between superficially unrelated words who share the same gamatria, number value, is perhaps the best-known Remez technique), Drash, meaning to search, often “filling in the blanks” of Biblical stories, splitting complex words into two or more smaller ones, taken as a whole implying a new direction to explore and Sod, secret, the deep, mystical implications of a word or verse. These “deeper” meanings often radically depart from the Pshat, but are considered equally true and of at least equal, often greater, value.

The value of these deeper levels is reflected in the rabbinic opinions that Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, superficially a book of love poems written by King Solomon, has no Pshat at all. In other words, our sages did not gratuitously promote an explicit book of love poems to the holiness of Scripture; rather, it is an allegory of the relationship between The Creator and The Jewish People. However, if you’re not trained to automatically recognize allegory and, instead, have been trained to read everything literally, not only will you miss the point, but you’ll then completely misunderstand not just Shir HaShirim, but also Aishet Chayil! (And most of the rest of Torah that you learn.)

If you were to try to apply this model to a human marriage, one of equal, but complementary partners, it would be a prescription for a disaster. At least I would never want to be in a marriage where my wife would be impossibly selfless, annoyingly competent and slavishly devoted to me. But that’s because an ideal marriage is a marriage of two equals, while, on the other hand, the relationship between God and man is, obviously, not equal. Nor would we want it to be, because that would mean we are relating to only the most infinitesimal shadow of The Creator. No, the metaphor of marriage is only that, a metaphor, and not either the literal truth or our true ideal of how to relate to God.

When our sages and prophets utilize the metaphor of romantic love to describe the ideal relationship between a Jew and God, Man is always the woman, which in these instances is to emphasize that we, humans, are merely the receivers while God, The Infinite Creator is the provider. Rather than a patronizing list of “good qualities for women”, we try to imagine and dedicate every possible way we can thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for this unimaginable gift of life and of the world we live in, with the opportunity/challenge to merely passively enjoy it, but with the privilege of actually, substantially partnering with The Creator in His act of Creation by helping bring it to its final perfect form. Thus, each verse in this complex alphabetic acrostic is not merely a “Thank you, Mommy”, but a hint of the complete set of tikkunim, repairs, with which we can make our contribution to a perfected reality.

Ishah Yirat Hashem, the human who truly sees Hashem is Tithallel, has reached and embraced the ultimate glory.

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