Every Friday night my husband sings me the ancient song of Eshet Chayil (Women of Valor) to me. While he is singing the same song that has been sung by Jewish men to their wives for generations, I always feel as though he himself composed the song just for me.
Eshet Chayil is a twenty-two verse poem found in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Traditionally, the poem is recited by married men to their wives upon returning home from synagogue on Friday evenings. The poem, which may have been composed by Abraham after his wife Sarah’s death, is a beautiful way for a man to express his love and gratitude for his wife. Over the years the term “Eshet Chayil” has taken on a more inclusive connotation. An exceptional woman is often given an honor called the “Eshet Chayil” award, for her work at home or in the community. As I have grown into a young woman, wife, and mother, I have truly come to appreciate my mother as my personal “Eshet Chayil”.
My personal Eshet Chayil: My mother was the oldest of three children born in New York City. Her mother, Lili, is a holocaust survivor, and when my mother was born she named her Keren which means light, because she shed a new light onto the world. I don’t know much about my mother’s early childhood, but from what I understand she was a tiny child with a very large personality. I whole-heartedly believe that this description is true, because I too have always been a tiny figure with a large personality, and my daughter is the same! One of the stories of my mother that I am particularly fond of happened when she was only in the sixth grade.
My mother was well liked by most of her peers. There was one girl in her class, Eve, who was a bit nerdy. Eve was not quite as fashionable as the other girls in the class and she often got made fun of. As Eve told the story – one day my mother invited Eve to her house after school. My mother called her and told her to make sure to pack a bag full of clothes. Eve was certain that my mother was going to play some trick on her, but she was so desperate for friends that she went along with the plan. Little did Eve know that my mother actually was trying to help her! When Eve got to my mother’s house, my mother explained that it hurt her so much to watch Eve get made fun of each morning at school. My mother suggested that for one whole week they trade clothing as a bit of an experiment.
Sure enough my mother gave Eve a weeks’ worth of outfits and took Eve’s bag of clothing in exchange. The next morning they each arrived to school in each other’s clothing. Within two days each girl in the class started pairing up with another girl in the class to do a clothing exchange. Suddenly Eve was pretty cool and even a trend setter! My favorite part of the story is that my mother told the whole class that it was Eve’s idea to trade clothes – she didn’t even take the credit!
When my mother was just nineteen she met my father and the two of them got married. Just twelve years later I was born, the forth and youngest child. Throughout my life my mother has always made it clear that as long as we worked hard she would always be proud of us. However, it became clear that to her, the most important thing was that we would treat all of our friends with kindness. When I was in fourth grade there was a girl in my class who was pretty popular. She had very nice clothing and a fancy car; however, she never invited anyone to her house to play. One Friday in school she asked me if I could come over to her house to play with her the following Sunday.
I agreed and she was delighted. Then, in a sort of odd way, she slipped me a piece of paper with her address. She told me not to show it to anyone other than my mother. When I got home I told my mother of my plans and showed her the paper. She gasped and explained that this girl lived in government funded housing. I then understood why she was embarrassed. On Sunday my mother took me over to her house to play. She told me that I should remember that she is not to be judged for the way she lives. That was the end of the story –or so I thought. Fifteen years later, that same girl called me to ask how she could get in touch with my mother to thank her. I gave her my mother’s number and asked her what she needed to thank her for. The girl explained that after that Sunday my mother had delivered Shabbat dinner to her family each and every Friday night. For a long time they didn’t know where the food was coming from but one day about ten years ago they waited up all night. At five am when no one was out my mother dropped off food for the whole family. I cried when I heard the story. My mother had never told anyone (but my father) of her generosity!