When the JHV asked me to write a women’s column titled ‘Defining Jewish Women,’ I had mixed emotions that ranged from excitement on one end of the spectrum, to uncertainty on the other. Writing a women’s column for a Jewish publication seemed like a perfect fit for me, a Jewish lifestyle blogger. (#dreamjob) The title they proposed for the column, however, cast feelings of self-doubt (ok, maybe even panic). My initial reaction was, “It seems so presumptuous – who am I to define Jewish womanhood!?”
Friday night came, and with it an enlightening, yet humbling moment. With my Shabbat candles aglow, my guests and children gathered around the beautifully set table as my husband began to sing Eishet Chayil (The Woman of Valor). (If you haven’t tried this lovely candlelit serenade, I recommend gently suggesting it to your husbands.) This poem, found in the Book of Mishlei (Proverbs) is one of the oldest acrostic poems – praising the Jewish woman literally from the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, to the last letter, Taf. The Eishet Chayil describes the archetypal Jewish woman, suggesting that her admirable qualities are present in each and every Jewish woman’s soul.
The words of this ancient poem focus on a woman who is far from ancient. In fact, she would fit right in with any of us today, smart phones and all (well, not on Shabbat). The poem reminds us that G-d, our Creator, gave Jewish women qualities and capabilities beyond measure! In other words, He knows we have within us a lot more than we think we do. Maybe we have to hear the song about Mrs. Eishet Chayil every week to remind us, women, that no matter what is going on in our lives, G-d has enormous confidence in our abilities to handle it (especially when we use the tools that He has given us).
Eishet Chayil is only one of many times the Torah helps us hone into who we really are as Jewish women – something far beyond any definition society has created; because this definition preceded creation. The ultimate definition of who we truly are, comes from G-d. I immediately realized that the Herald was on to something much bigger than I had fathomed. (Well, there’s a reason why the Herald has been around way longer than me.) True, defining a Jewish woman is no small feat. But, the good news is that no one is asking me to do that. G-d in his infinite wisdom – the Torah – already did that for us! (Sigh of relief.) All I have to do is communicate G-d’s message in a way that is relatable to our female readers in today’s day and age! (Easier said than done! Did I mention my panic?)
I don’t measure up to Mrs. Eishet Chayil, yet. But, hearing the poem that night made me realize that it might be the case that if the Herald (as an agent of G-d) put me to the task of writing a column titled “Defining Jewish Women,” I can actually do it. So, I will humbly attempt to tap into some of the messages that G-d wants us to understand and apply in our lives, and share them with you in this column. And as G-d values individuality, I expect that much of what I will communicate here will be somewhat tinted by my own colorful experiences and persona. I also hope my voice will be enriched and enthused by the paths of thousands of righteous Jewish women who have preceded me, as well as of the amazing women who are walking down this path with me today. I look forward to embarking on this journey, and welcome you along. Have you taken a closer look at the Eishet Chayil? What lessons did you derive from the poem?