"שלום עליכם מלאכי השרת"
“Peace unto you, ministering angels.”

QUESTION: Why do we greet angels when we come home from shul?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Shabbat 119b) two ministering angels, one good and one bad, escort a person from the shul to his home on Shabbat night. When he comes home and finds the candles burning, the table set, and the bed made, the good angel says, “May it be the will of Hashem that it should be this way the next Shabbat as well.” The bad angel is forced to answer, Amein.” If he comes home and the house is not set for Shabbat, the bad angel says, “May it be the will of Hashem that it should be this way the next Shabbat as well.” The good angel must reluctantly answer Amein.”

Thus, upon arriving home, we greet the angels and seek their blessing that peace prevail in the home.

"שלום עליכם מלאכי השרת... בואכם לשלום מלאכי השלום"
“Peace unto you, ministering angels... May your coming be in peace, angels of peace.”

QUESTION: In the first stanza we refer to them as “malachei hashareit” — “ministering angels” — and thereon we refer to them as “malachei hashalom” — “angels of peace” — why?

ANSWER: All angels in heaven are ministering angels. Their purpose is to minister in the heavenly spheres. When they are dispatched to earth, they are given a specific mission. In this case they give the blessing that the home will have peace and tranquility and that the spirit and aura of Shabbat will continue on in this home without interruption. Hence, upon their entry they are addressed by their general title and purpose — “malachei hashareit” — “ministering angels” — and afterwards, since their specific mission involves peace, we address them by the title “malachei hashalom” — “angels of peace” — beseeching them to be faithful to their mission and bless us with peace.

"שלום עליכם...צאתכם לשלום"
“Peace unto you...May your departure be in peace.”

QUESTION: The angels have just arrived, why do we wish for their departure?

ANSWER: If we wanted them to leave, we would say “tze’u,” which is a command to leave. The word “tzeitechem” means “your leaving and departure.” We are, in a sense, saying to the angels, “We relish your company and hope it will be long lasting. However, we pray that during your entire stay, up to tzeitechem — your departure — there should be a spirit of ‘shalom’ — ‘peace’ — in our home.”

(מחצית השקל או"ח סי' רס"ב, ועי' המלך במסיבו ח"ב עמוד ל)

* * *

Alternatively, according to the Zohar throughout the entire week heavenly angels are assigned to accompany and protect every Jew. On Shabbat there is a change of the guard and another set of angels replace the weekday ones. Thus, on Friday night we say shalom aleichem to the Shabbat angels who have come to replace the weekday ones, and immediately thereafter we say “tzeitechem l’shalom” to the weekday angels, who have been relieved of their duty and are now leaving to return to their heavenly base.

(שפת אמת פ' ויצא)

"אשת חיל"
“A woman of valor.”

QUESTION: Who is the “aishet chayil” — “woman of valor” — for whom this was composed?

ANSWER: “Aishet Chayil” was the eulogy our father Avraham made for his deceased wife Sarah, and the twenty-two verses are related to different facets of her life.

(מדרש תנחומא, בראשית, חיי שרה)

It refers to the Shechinah — Divine Presence. The twenty-two verses correspond to the twenty-two Heavenly conduits which are currently open and through which there is an outpouring of blessings.

(של"ה, בסדור שער השמים)

It refers to Shabbat, which is the kallah — bride and mate — of K’lal Yisrael, and when the Shabbat — bride enters, it is proper to sing her praise.

(מטיב נגן, ועי' מדר"ב יא:ח)

It refers to the Torah (Yalkut Shimoni, Proverbs). The word “chayil” (חיל) has the numerical value of forty-eight, and alludes to the forty-eight attributes necessary to acquire Torah which are recorded in Pirkei Avot (6:6).

* * *

In simple terms it is a tribute to the woman of the house who toils to tend to the needs of her family. As akeret habayit — foundation of the home — she creates an ambiance of Torah and chesed in the house.

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Proverbs) says that in this composition there are twenty-two verses. Each starts with another letter of the alef-beit. Just as Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people by means of the twenty-two letters of the alef-beit, so Hashem praises the righteous woman with all the twenty-two letters of the alef-beit.

"ותקם בעוד לילה ותתן טרף לביתה"
“She rises while it is still night, and gives food to her household.”

QUESTION: Night is the time for sleeping and not for eating, so what is so special about her providing food at night?

ANSWER: Night is an allusion to dark and difficult times. The word “teref” (טרף) — “food” — has the numerical value of two hundred and eighty-nine. The Hebrew word for good is “tov” (טוב), which has the numerical value of seventeen. The ultimate and highest degree of good is “tov” times“tov” (17 x 17), which adds up to two hundred and eighty-nine.

King Shlomo is saying in praise of the true aishet chayil — dedicated Jewish mother — that even in times of “lailah” — when the family is struggling with difficulties and hardships, she rises above it and with love and devotion provides “teref” — the best of everything (according to her abilities) for her family.

(בספר בכורי אביב כ' בשם היהודי מפשיסחא דקאי על הגלות וגם אז עושה לנו הקב"ה טובות)

"כפה פרשה לעני וידיה שלחה לאביון"
“She holds out her hand to the poor and extends her hands to the destitute.”

QUESTION: Why does the phrase start with “kapah” — “her hand” in singular, and conclude with “yadeha” — “her hands” — in plural?

ANSWER: Giving tzedakah is one of the greatest mitzvot of the Torah. It is even greater in the case where the giver himself is struggling to make ends meet. For such giving the reward is much greater. King Shlomo is alluding to this and says that the aishet chayil — woman of valor — stretches out her hand to the poor even when she cannot afford it. She would like to give much, but since unfortunately she cannot, she gives only “kapah” — “one hand” — and for this she will merit the blessing that she will ultimately be able to give with “yadeha” — “two hands” — to the needy.

(ר' ברוך מרדכי זצ"ל מקוידינוב)

"ותשחק ליום אחרון"
“She looks smilingly toward the very last day.”

QUESTION: Which “very last day” is this referring to?

ANSWER: The “last day” is the day when she will leave this world and come before the Heavenly Tribunal. Having lived an accomplished life of Torah and mitzvot, she will come with garments of strength and dignity. Thus, being well prepared, she has no reason to fear the inevitable moment. Cognizant of what our sages say, “He who exerts himself [doing Mitzvot] on Erev Shabbat (Olam Hazeh — this world) will ‘eat,’ i.e. receive reward, on Shabbat” (Avodah Zara 3a, Rashi ), she confidently smiles.

* * *

Once some people were at a funeral of a man who had lived a long life, and one asked the other, “What did he die from?” The other replied, “I do not know; he was healthy up to his last day, and died suddenly.” A third man, who was standing nearby and overheard their conversation, interjected, “You are incorrect. Only the one who did not accumulate Torah and mitzvot dies suddenly, since he does not expect this day and comes before his Maker unprepared. However, the one who readies himself throughout all his years for this day anticipates it and does not die suddenly, but fully prepared.”

"שקר החן והבל היופי"
“Grace is false and beauty is vain.”

QUESTION: Physical grace is not an attribute worthy of serious praise, and it has no great value, but why is it “false”? Why does it say hachein”“the grace”? “Chein” — “grace” — would be sufficient.

ANSWER: Three mitzvot were given particularly to women: Hadlakat Haneir — kindling the Shabbat candles, Niddah — the law of menstruation, Challah — separating a portion of the kneaded dough.

Had Chavah not caused Adam to sin by eating of the forbidden tree, he and everyone would have lived forever. Hence, for extinguishing the candle (neshamah) of the world, she engages in the lighting of candles. For causing the shedding of his blood, she was assigned to observe the laws of menstruation. Adam was made of a portion of the earth, and is thus analogous to the challah, which is a separated portion of the kneaded dough. For causing his eventual loss from the world, she is the one assigned the mitzvah of separating challah from the kneaded dough (Shabbat 32a, Rashi).

The acronym for these three mitzvot הדלקת הנר, חלה, נדה spell the word “hachein” — “the grace” — (החן).

King Shlomo, the wisest of all men, is saying that “sheker hachein” — if a woman falsifies and does not meticulously observe her three mitzvot, which are alluded to by the word “hachein,” then hevel hayofi” — regardless how beautiful she may be physically, her beauty is vain and of no value or significance. The truly beautiful woman is the one who fears Hashem.