It started with my hyperfocus on the term sheleg; also in Kapital Tehillim 147, in case you were wondering.
And because of all the crazy weather, or at least intensely winter weather, I have been thinking of this snow, or how it is understood in Hebrew texts.
So when it came time to sing Eshet Chayil at the dinner table this past Shabbat, it occurred to me that, once again, why would someone is Israel be worried about snow?
Here it is in print:
כא לֹא-תִירָא לְבֵיתָהּ מִשָּׁלֶג: כִּי כָל-בֵּיתָהּ, לָבֻשׁ שָׁנִים.
Proverbs 31:21: She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
Yes, you can understand that snow is something that they appreciated in Israel, but not something that they would be afraid of. You can’t be afraid, or fearful, however else you might translate that, about something that is just so not common.
So let’s assume that this woman of chayil (which is another conversation) is just being cautious, like me having weeks’ worth of food stored up all winter, just in case I can’t get to the store, and that I have to use up now before Pesach, okay, she would want her kiddies to stay warm. But, if this momma is indeed, such a worrywart, then why would being dressed in scarlet be a solution? Certainly color doesn’t cover the cold; so what is the scarlet and why is this a good solution? Is it, as the commentator Ibn Ezra says says about that the scarlet is wool, referring to the tola’at shani wool that is used in the tzara’at ceremony, so much warmer than…not wool, I guess?
Rashi, on the other hand, goes to town. “That the wicked are judged from fire to snow” and that the scarlet refers to the blood of circumcision”, which, supposedly, is a protection from such evil. He adds another meaning for שָׁנִים, which is double, as in doubling the language here of “dressed”, so the household is doubly dressed, very warm. Or, presumably, doubly covered in all those cases that doubling language is used in the Torah to make sure that you certainly do certain mitzvot and that you do them carefully.
Or, don’t ya notice now, as the husband did, (I think I’m going to call him Ishi from here on; my man:) ) the similarity to the famous pasuk from Isaiah 1:18
לְכוּ-נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה, יֹאמַר יְהוָה; אִם-יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ, אִם-יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
So if we are looking for our sins to be wiped out to be pure as snow, here it is that she is scared of snow, and covering with the scarlet!
It seems that this pasuk proves that this section of Mishlei can’t be taken on pshat face value; that this, like the rest of Mishlei, is symbolic of something else.
And, of course, as you get into the whole thing, it’s pretty clear we’re not talking about the little lady of the house, as much as you who wish it to be so wish it to be so. So then, the שָׁנִים becomes “twice”, not scarlet; and the image is that the lady of the house is Torah, which must be reviewed over and over to protect the household; i.e. all of us children of Israel.
And just so that I do finish this before we read the next Eshet Chayil, I’m going to save the very difficult Meiri on the nature of the Eshet Chayil par excellence for another time…