Women of Valor

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Question: In Proverbs, King Solomon says, “a woman of worth is hard to find...more precious than pearls (Proverbs 31:10).” Does this mean that most women are not of value, and are as rare as pearls? He also says, “Whoever finds a wife, finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord (Proverbs 18:22).” He does not say “she” is good, but rather “has found a good thing.” Does this mean finding “any” wife is good…that it is better to have an unfit wife than to be single?

Will – Portland, OR

Answer: King Solomon’s father King David ridiculed men as well, “Every man is a liar (Psalms 116:11).”  Thus, the species — not the gender — possesses faults…and we have many. But let’s understand the specific ridicule and praise King Solomon offered women in the verses you quoted. 

Rashi and Ibn Ezra explain the first verse you quote refers to King Solomon’s mother. After wedding Pharaoh’s daughter, awake all night enjoying musical festivities, King Solomon overslept. The Temple’s keys lay under his head. When the morning sacrifice was due, his mother Batsheva awoke him and rebuked him on this tardiness (Rashi). Ibn Ezra explains that due to Batsheva’s wisdom, including her rebuke that Solomon not be so engaged in women and wine, but uphold kingly virtues, King Solomon responded with this praise of his mother’s teachings. 

Evidently, King Solomon viewed his mother’s character as rare. This may be due to the gender’s relatively submissive nature, being a more sensitive creature so as to tend to children, softer than men who from youth are toughened by male aggression, competition, toil and ego. In general, God designed the woman as submissive, “And your husband will rule over you (Gen. 3:16).” This is fitting, as prior to this change in woman’s nature, Eve dominated Adam, leading him to sin by eating the forbidden fruit, despite the punishment of mortality. God did not change woman’s psyche, without just cause.

Batsheva was not submissive, and spoke up at the proper moment with intelligent rebuke. Rashi says this verse compliments a woman who is industrious and provides finances through her acts; again, a dominant role rarely seen in the gender. Batsheva broke the mold, and displayed greatness. 

Perhaps also, King Solomon praised her over pearls, since pearls are fixed in their value, whereas an industrious women brings forth continued value. 

As you said, King Solomon wrote, “Whoever finds a wife, finds good, and obtains favor of the Lord (Proverbs 18:22).” King Solomon also wrote, “I have found more bitter than death, a woman who ensnares, whose heart is nets, and arms that are chains. He who is pleasing to God escapes her, but the sinner is caught by her (Koheles 7:26,27).”  So the answer is “No”: marriage is not better than being single, when one is wed to such a dominant spouse. One must wed only a fine woman. The Rabbis did not attend weddings unless a Talmudic scholar was wedding the daughter of a scholar. They meant to emphasize the proper marriage. 

God said, “It is not good that man be alone, I will make for him a support opposite him (Gen. 2:18).” King Solomon says that finding a wife is “finding goodness.”  Finding a proper wife, the king says, one will be favored by God. The Rabbis say, since man performs God’s decree (marriage), God will favor this individual. Ethics also says, “Do His will as yours, in order that He will do your will as His (Ethics 2:4).” This means that as we live closer to God’s laws, He provides for us in a greater measure. This is sensible. However, if this is so, why did the king single-out the specific mitzvah of marriage that earns God’s favor? 

Perhaps marriage is the one command that carries a unique challenge: to incorporate another person’s personality, opinions and emotions into our each and every day. This forfeits personal freedom, for both marriage partners. It requires great care, patience, humility, tongue-biting, compromise and self-control. Other commands are isolated, brief acts. Whereas marriage is a sustained, intertwined daily involvement. If performed properly, it can lead to great personal perfection, and happiness. As this is a far greater challenge than most commands, King Solomon states that here, one earns God’s favor.

Interesting too, is that in both verses, King Solomon talks of “finding” a woman. This implies another truth, that a woman is a “found” phenomenon, much like an unexpectedly-found treasure. Unlike our ability to locate fish, lumber, or employment, where each have “road signs” like ponds, forests and villages respectively…a woman’s (or man’s) character is not associated to locations like fish are to water, or lumber to forests. Nor does character correlate to types of jobs, where a man might visit a certain business type seeking a wife from its employees. Man’s lot of a wife depends on chance meetings, the matchmaking of others who themselves meet others by chance, or God’s providence to meet a woman of value. Thus, a woman is many times “found” and not “located.” She has no beacon. Do not be misled by the Talmud’s statement, “40 days before the formation of the embryo a voice calls out ‘daughter of this man [will marry] to this man (Sotah 2a)’.” For this only means that psychological drives that cause romantic attraction are formed at this point. It does not mean our spouses are divinely compulsory. Maimonides says, “It is a mitzvah to marry a good woman, and God does not tamper with man’s free will to do good. Marrying a woman of poor quality is a sin, and again, God does not make man sin.” 

“Houses and wealth are inheritances of fathers, but from God is a wise woman (Proverbs 19:14).”  Apparently this is so obvious that few Rabbis commented on this verse. Talmud Sotah (2a) adds that a good woman is not given to an unworthy man. An average man chasing a virtuous woman will encounter insurmountable hurdles, or never meets her. We thereby learn from these 2 additional sources that although in most cases man must “find” a wife, if a man perfects himself following God’s Torah, God will then provide him with a wise woman. But if a man is of low character, God will not grant him a good woman. This would be unfair to the woman. God intends the good for each human. He intends that good people complement each other’s virtues and are not dragged down by a mate of low character. God’s provision of Rebecca to Eliezer for Isaac is not a one-time event. This is a rule that applies to those who deserve God’s providence. 

One is therefore wise to refine his or her character, if he or she wishes God’s help to find a worthy mate. Certainly, one must refine his or her dating behavior: 

Don’t be lazy or discouraged; make a real effort.

Respect others and arrive on-time or early for dates…you would not arrive late to a job interview.

Be appreciative, even if the date is not for you, certainly when someone spent time and money on you. You will protect your own reputation this way. 

Don’t mislead others in any way. Speak only the truth, always, and don’t “fudge” the truth. Eventually the truth does come out, and lies destroy trust. 

Always remain patient and polite. 

Don’t hurt yourself by rejecting a dating prospect based on hearsay; speak to the individual yourself. 

Don’t share matters about other singles, which you are unsure yourself. This spoils reputations, and lives. 

If you hear others speaking evil of people, no matter whom, speak up to halt such damaging evil speech. 

Seek proper qualities and dispense with matters that are irrelevant or nonsensical. Age, professions, exorbitant wealth, dress styles, fame, types of homes or cars must be less of an issue than a person’s character, intellect and good deeds. We forfeit chances to meet people of character when we pursue illusionary and superficial matters. 

Break bad routines, rid yourself of overestimating your own worth, and you will invite more dates, and more possibilities. 

Unless someone is not a match due to clearly bad character, give people more than once chance. You would certainly not want someone you liked to reject you after just one hour. 

Bounce your reaction about your dates off of intelligent people only. 

Finally, know that just like you, no one is perfect. If someone you find attractive displays intelligence, controls his or her emotions, is emotionally available, earns a living or can patiently care for children with love, possesses maturity and is dedicated to Torah, you may have found a fine match. And don’t be afraid to explore a romantic relationship with a long-time friend. In fact, that might be a very good idea, since you have much in common already. 

In summary, a good woman is rare. Marriage is desired by God, and God favors those who get married.  And if one seeks and deserves a wise woman, God arranges this. God will not give a fine woman to an undeserving man.

To meet and marry a person of quality, it is essential that we refine our characters, abandon the search for superficial traits, adhere to Torah, and seek fine qualities in a match.