May 9, 2019
“Eishet chayil mi yimtza?” “A woman of valor, who can find?” (Proverbs 31:10, Masoretic text). This is the opening line of the famous poem found in Proverbs honoring the righteous woman. In the Jewish faith, we sing these words aloud every Friday night on the Sabbath to show our appreciation for the women in our lives.
From the time that I was little, I knew that I wanted to become an eishet chayil, just like my mom. On Friday nights, my mother looked like a queen as we sang these ancient and holy words of praise. However, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant to be a woman of valor or how to become one.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word chayil, generally translated as “valor” or “noble,” is nearly identical to the Hebrew word chayal, meaning “soldier.” This is because, as I learned, a woman of valor is primarily a soldier of God.
A woman of valor is strong, competent, and loyal to her family, those whom she cares for day in and day out. The woman of valor is a soldier in the army of God, working in obedience to and for the glory of her King. She is strict when necessary, unbreakable when tested, and hard working for the sake of her family and community. Yet, the next phrase reads: “vrachok mepeninim michra,” “far beyond pearls is her value”. As strong as she may be, the woman of valor is also more graceful and beautiful than a pearl.
The woman of valor is both strong and soft, firm and kind, a woman of the home and a successful businessperson or community volunteer outside the home. Thousands of years before women today would face the challenge of balancing motherhood and careers, the woman of valor taught that anything is possible with the help of God. It is possible to thrive in all areas. Women may choose who they want to be and what they feel called to do in service of God.
When I was a young woman, I wondered how one woman can excel in so many different areas. Yet God had gifted me with the perfect role model: my very own mother.
If I can be half the woman and mother my own mom was (and is), I will be happy. As I was growing up, she balanced strength with grace, being a present, loving mother while contributing to her community.
At first she stayed home to raise her children. Once her youngest (me!) was in first grade she went to work. My mother worked in a not-for-profit, bringing goodness to the world and succeeding as a businesswoman. In the course of her career, my mother was promoted to higher and higher levels, demanding more and more of her time. And yet, I cannot remember a night that there wasn’t a hot meal on the table. I remember my mother spending hours putting me to bed at night, rubbing my back, whispering prayers, telling me stories, and giving me her undivided attention as if staying with me at bedtime was the only thing she had to do. I can picture her happily cooking our favorite foods for Shabbat late into the night.
My mother modeled strength, commitment, patience, and devotion. At the same time, she inspired my faith by her own unwavering faith, and passed down meaningful Jewish traditions that I hope to pass down to my own children. From my mother’s example I know that, with God’s help, I can excel in my career and still be a wonderful mother, wife, and daughter.
I believe that God always places the perfect people in our lives. It’s no accident that I was given my mother. He could not have sent me a greater teacher.
This Mother’s Day is an opportunity to blend the Jewish tradition of praising the amazing women in our lives with the tradition of celebrating mothers. We can recognize the unique character traits that make each woman an eishet chayil in her own right. Ultimately, one trait is more important than all rest — fear of God is paramount for the eishet chayil, as we read in Proverbs: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (v.30)
With blessings from the Holy Land,