One of the goals of Rachel Held Evens with her year of biblical womanhood project is to help women take back Proverbs 31
The ancient acrostic poem celebrating the virtuous woman was never meant to be a standard women struggle to meet, but rather a blessing that celebrates the accomplishments they’ve already made. As we heard from Ahava, in Jewish culture, many men recite the poem to their wives at the Sabbath meal, and Jewish women often praise one another for accomplishments in homemaking, career, boldness, and justice by declaring “eshet chayil!”—woman of valor!
A woman of valor, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She arises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the 1teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who 1afears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the 1product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
When I first encountered Proverbs 31 - I thought holy **** what?! are you kidding me?! and promptly decided I wasn't anything like this chick and forgot it - except every year the church I attended would have this poem printed in the bulletin on Mother's Day - great -a yearly reminder of what I wasn't.
Years went by and I read it again, with different glasses, and realized that I was indeed that woman, not every letter or word but I was a woman of valor. Than I heard about Rachael's project and thought she's nuts - but looking deeper into her biblical womanhood project, I realized that she is exploring herself and other women of various faiths through the Bible. It isn't about fundamentalism, anti-feminism, or pro-patriarch. It's about celebrating those women whose stories are found in Genesis to Revelation the mothers, daughters, sisters wives, widows, queens, and prophetesses. It is also about the Women of Valor of today - our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, the queens and the mystics, the preachers, the teachers, the wives, the courageous, the quiet, the ones of song, and the ones who quietly do what no one else wants to do.
We are the Women of Valor - eshet chayil!