A quick glimpse at the qualities of the beautiful woman described in the Eishet Chayil poem recited at the start of Shabbat dinner can leave most modern day women feeling somewhat inadequate.
To start, she is an early riser, has incredible organizational skills, is a bargain shopper and is financially savvy. She is a successful real estate agent and designer exporter. She is also “green” and plants her own organic vineyards. She is an excellent orator and leader and raises well mannered children. If this isn’t enough, she is the perfect spouse as well. She advises her husband and has earned his complete trust both in his personal life and with his professional dealings. Because of her complete dedication to him, her husband is distinctive from his distinguished peers.
Although the Eishet Chayil seems to balance her family and professional life impeccably, she probably doesn’t have much time for social functions and friends. On the contrary, reads the poem, she is so in tuned to strangers that she even knows the difference between someone that can come to her and express his needs and someone that needs her to reach out to them.
When we listen to this poem being recited on Shabbat should we feel hopeless? Should we secretly despise this overachieving and not-so-realistic model assigned to us? Perhaps we should rally against her? Women can’t have it all; she must be making some illegal compromises.
King Solomon, the author of the poem “Eishet Chayil” chooses an out of the ordinary word to describe this perfect woman. The Hebrew word “Chayil,” translated as “Valor,” is used in a military sense and has the connotation of bravery and strength. It implies the presence of whatever skills or attributes are needed to carry out the task at hand. The brave woman that is being described in this poem is not heroic because of a specific high-achieving task list; rather she is praised for her heroism of using her unique skills to accomplish whatever happens to be required. The text of “Eishet Chayil” includes a variety of skill sets and is not meant to measure our perceived failures. The poem should be utilized as a metaphorical guide for a woman’s potential. Every person can approach each day with bravery and a heart of love to accomplish her own specific goals. What is accomplished each day is specific to the individual and the skill set assigned to them. The poem is recited at the end of every week on Shabbat. Regardless of what transpired in the prior week and no matter how many items are still left on the “to do” list, “Eishet Chayil reminds us not to be discouraged but rather to celebrate our unique blessings and accomplishments.