Thursday, January 3, 2013

Women of Valor

Recently I read a book titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood, written by blogger Rachel Held Evans. Evans decided to embark on a year of investigating what it meant to be a “biblical woman,” with her quest including following some of the Levitical law such as camping out in a tent when she had her period.  While the tone of the writing wasn’t always my favorite (a little too much of the “I’m a quirky blogger and let me tell you my quirky shortcomings and build up some camaraderie with my readers”) and the idea behind the book was a little gimmicky, Evans had some great points that got me thinking.

One thing Evans addressed is how Proverbs 31, a poem praising the good deeds of an upper-class Jewish woman, has become a laundry list for modern Christian women to compare themselves with. There are many titles for the woman who is the subject of the poem: a good wife, a wife of noble character, a valiant woman, a worthy woman. The Hebrew phrase for this woman is “eshet chayil” which scholars believe is best translated “valorous woman.”

Evans makes the point that the original intent of Proverbs 31 is meant to be inspiration rather than a to-
do list or list of regulations. The woman in the poem is praised because she has given her best effort to provide for the needs of her family and community and because she is seeking to honor the Lord. Her individual actions are unique to her individual life. She is not the only woman of valor in the Bible - because there are many of those who led widely varied lives and whose godly deeds reflected their individual strengths and situations. 

Through the course of writing her book, Evans corresponds with a woman named Ahava who is the Jewish wife of a rabbi, living in Jerusalem. Evans asks Ahava if Jewish women struggle as much as Christian women to live up to the Proverbs 31 ideal. This is the response Ahava gave:

“Here’s the thing. Christians seem to think that because the Bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally. Jews don’t do this. Even though we take the Torah literally (all 613 commandments!), the rest is seen differently, as a way of understanding our Creator, rather than direct commands. Take Proverbs 31 for example. I get called an eshet chayil (a valorous woman) all the time. Make your own challah instead of buying? Eshet chayil! Work to earn some extra money for the family? Eshet chayil! Make balloon animals for the kids at Shul? Eshet chayil! Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings the Proverbs 31 poem to me. It’s special because I know no matter what I do or don’t do, he praises me for blessing the family with my energy and creativity. All women can do that in their own way.

What a transforming way to see this part of the Bible! It is not another “to do” list we need to read and compare ourselves to, hanging our heads in shame because we perhaps don’t get up before dawn daily or don’t always manage to make dinner every night or don’t get out to do community work as much as we’d like. We strive to care for our families with what we have at that moment. That is what counts. 

As mothers and as women in general we are all in different places in life. Our efforts of valor will look different from woman to woman. As we work to bless our family and those around us with our energy and creativity, let’s spur each other on to good deeds and encourage one another with a hearty Eshet chayil!

Eshet chayil to you, my dear women friends and fellow mamas! You do good things daily and should be praised for that.

1 comment:

  1. I love your take on this book! Andrew told me about it and I've been intrigued by it. It's on my "I'll get around to it eventually list." haha!