Superwoman and the Eshet Chayil

It was supposed to be so simple. I was scheduled for oral surgery, 9:00 Thursday morning. The periodontist had told me that it was a simple, one hour procedure. Great, I figured. That would be just enough time to get the kids to the babysitter beforehand, go in for the surgery, and hurry off to my graduate school classes. The doctor had given me a strict warning to make sure to eat breakfast beforehand. No problem, I thought. That would be simple enough.

Thursday morning, the alarm went off. I rushed to get the kids dressed and ready. Of course, I needed to get started on Shabbos cooking, so I hurriedly got a pan of brownies in the oven. Finally, we were nearly ready. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, but I needed to rush if I wanted to get the kids to the babysitter in time for my appointment. I dropped them off, and drove off to the dentist. I dug an emergency granola bar out of the cup holder, and ate it quickly, as I got out of the car.

The procedure went as planned. As the dentist snipped and stitched, I found out all about her upcoming vacation plans, and how she used to like eating strawberries with whipped cream when she was a kid. Finally, it was over. Just enough time to get to class. I sat up. I started feeling funny. My head. Somehow, I couldn’t get up. The dentist saw that I wasn’t looking so good, and recommended that I try lying down again. As I lay in the dentist chair, the dentist and her assistant checked my blood pressure and gave me a sports drink. I lay there, helplessly, knowing that I would never make it to class on time now.

After some more rest and sports drink, the dentist felt that I was OK leaving the office, but advised against me driving. My brother, who lived in the area, came by to pick me up, and drove me to my parents’ house. As I rested and recovered, I had plenty of time to contemplate where I had gone wrong. All I was doing was trying to do everything that I was supposed to do, right? I needed to get the kids dressed. I needed to get ready for Shabbos. I needed to rush off to school. What was the problem?

I thought about my goal. It wasn’t just about getting things done. It was about being a superwoman. About doing the impossible. Was there another way? I decided to pay close attention, that Shabbos, to the words of Eshes Chayil. Eshes Chayil (Woman of Valor) is comprised of twenty-two verses, in order of the Hebrew alphabet. Each line extols the value of a truly righteous woman. It was written by King Solomon, and is found at the end of the book of Proverbs. It is traditionally recited on Friday night, at the beginning of the Shabbos meal.

The Woman of Valor, as the verses declare, seems to be so active, engaging in commerce, clothing her family, feeding her household. What then could possibly be wrong with my attempts at being a superwoman? The answer, I believe, lies in the penultimate verse. Isha yiras Hashem, hi tishalal. A G-d fearing woman, she should be praised. Yes, the Eshes Chayil expends great effort, but it is with the ultimate goal of carrying out a sacred task. Her activities aren’t merely a way to show off just how capable she is, but, rather, a reflection of her desire to provide for her family, as a means of fulfilling the will of G-d. I had fallen prey to the vision of superwoman, at the expense of my health, leaving me less capable of doing all that I set out to do.

I wish that I could say that I’ve never made that mistake since then. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and it’s a struggle to remember that I need to take a break sometimes, to enable me to do everything that I want to do in a better way. But every Friday night, I have a reminder. A mission statement. To be an Eshes Chayil.


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