Proverbs 31:10 asks us who can find a “capable” or “virtuous” woman. At first, this question seems a bit insulting. Are virtuous and capable women really that rare and difficult to find?
I personally know many women whose accomplishments are too great to number. Certainly the mother of King Lemuel (traditionally, Solomon) did not mean to insinuate that few women were any good.
Solomon had plenty of experience with women; the last thing he needed was for his mother to match him up with another. Rather, the question of Proverbs 31 poses a riddle to us; it asks: “Can you figure out what I am hinting at as I describe this capable woman?”
The mystics of the seventeenth century interpreted this passage as a depiction of the Divine Presence which is greeted as the Sabbath bride. But in its original context, the Proverbs 31 allegory had a different meaning. The Sabbath Table commentary explains:
The theme of the book of Proverbs is wisdom and fear of the Lord. Wisdom is equated with the Torah, and it is personified as a woman. The book begins with the equation, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). Just as the capable woman’s value is “far greater than pearls,” the Proverbs also declare that “wisdom is better than pearls” (Proverbs 8:11). “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom … she is more precious than pearls” (Proverbs 3:13, 15).
Proverbs 31 concludes with the thought, “A woman who fears the LORD should be praised” (Proverbs 31:30), even though there is no mention earlier in the passage about fearing God. The descriptive phrase “who fears the LORD” in Hebrew is exactly the same as the phrase “the fear of the LORD” (yir’at HaShem, יראת יי). This makes it sound as if the woman herself is the fear of the LORD—that is to say, the Torah.
This could explain the acrostic form of the passage. The “woman” is composed of the letters of the alphabet, alluding to her identity as the Torah. Rabbi Isaac bar Nehemiah said, “Just as the blessed Holy One gave the Torah to Israel with twenty-two letters, so he praises the upright women with twenty-two letters.”
In this view, each of the depictions of the capable woman represents the Torah in some way. For example, when the passage says that the woman purchases a field and plants a vineyard (Proverbs 31:16), this refers to the Torah’s promise of the land of Canaan and the establishment of the Jewish people there. The language about her generosity to the poor (Proverbs 31:20) speaks of the commandments to show charity. Her children, the benei Torah, are the Jewish people, and her husband who sits among the elders (Proverbs 31:23) corresponds to the scholars and judges who have mastered the Torah.
In a spiritual sense, Proverbs 31 can even be seen as a describing our Master Yeshua, who exists as a living Torah—the very word of God in human form.