Last week I bought a beautiful bracelet on Etsy for my mother for her birthday, with the words Eshet Chayil spelled out in silver beads. It prompted me to finish a post I started a long time ago about this traditional shabbat song.
My father never sang Eshet Chayil to my mother. Although my mother was certainly worthy of his praises, ours was not a traditional household. We did not gather around a shabbat table each week reciting blessings and singing zemirot, Shabbat songs. Also, my father did not know enough Hebrew to navigate this very long, complicated excerpt from Proverbs 31. (He did love to sing, however. Kris Kristofferson songs in particular.)
Eshet Chayil defines a woman of valor by enumerating a long (and exhausting) list of her fine qualities. An ancient text which has been criticized by some as sexist or hypcritical, Eshet Chayil’s depiction of the ideal woman is actually surprisingly broad. While she rises before dawn to prepare food for her family, she also buys a field and plants a vineyard. Not only does she clothe her family in crimson, she also girds her loins in strength and makes her arms strong.
Some say the song is a metaphor for Torah or God. Others consider it a description of many different women, rather than one individual wonder woman. No matter the interpretation (and you can read some excellent ones in this issue of the JOFA journal), singing praises of strong, accomplished women to the matriarch seated the Shabbat table is a custom I wish were part of my family’s Friday nights. (Heck, I’d like it if they’d just say thank-you for dinner once in a while.) But while my family does gather around the table every Friday night, we also don’t sing zemirot. My non-Jewish husband knows even less Hebrew than my father did, and doesn’t even like to sing Kirs Kirstofferson songs.
Since we aren’t a zemirot-singing family, but we do use electronics on Shabbat, I’ve considered playing a recording of the song at the shabbat table. While this might not feel as warm and fuzzy as having my husband serenade me, it would place the song on my daughters’ radar and make gratitude (to me!) part of our weekly ritual. But, somehow it feels kind of like making a birthday card for myself. A little lame.
If I did want to try to convince my husband to sing a version of Eshet Chayil at our table, it would definitely be this one. Not only is it in English, but it’s superbly cool. And it was written by my friend Alicia Rabins, of Girls in Trouble fame, who played violin at our wedding.
Alicia (whom I like to call Morah Chana) has graciously offered a 10% discount on downloads from the Girls in Trouble store for the month of February. Simply enter the code HOMESHUL at checkout. Enjoy! (In case you are wondering, I tried to get a coupon code for the Etsy store where I got the bracelet, but to no avail.)
Does your family sing Eshet Chayil or some other song praising the woman and/or man at the head of the table? I’d love to hear about it.