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Eshet Chayil: A Woman Transformed

“She spreads out her palm to the poor, and extends her hands to the destitute.”
“About whom is this verse written? The widow of Zarephath who sustained Elijah with bread and water.” (Batei Midrashot 2)

A strange example! The widow was only able to feed Elijah through the prophets miraculous blessing that supplied her with food. Of course she fed him; he brought food into her home.

Her great act seems to be trusting Elijah when he told her, “Fear not! Go do as you have said: but first prepare a small cake from it for me, and bring it out to me. And prepare for yourself and your son, afterward.” (Kings I 17:13) She had “only a handful of flour in a jug, and a bit of oil in a cruse.” She was preparing to, “Eat it and then we will die.” Elijah asked her to first feed him her final food before she ate her last meal. She trusted him, and “She ate, her and her household, for a year.”

Why would the Midrash understand her actions as charity rather than trust? Perhaps the Sages perceived that she did not share her food with Elijah because of his promised miracle, but as an expression of generosity by a desperate woman.

No wonder the story continues with a woman transformed: “The son of the woman, the landlady;” she is no longer as the widow, but as a woman, a landlady. She regained her dignity through her charity.

She transformed herself from the “widow” to the “landlady” by her act of generosity even as she prepared to eat the very last of her food.

Our verse is not describing a charitable woman, but a Woman of Valor who transforms herself through her generosity. She does not simply hand out food to the poor, nor simply drop some coins into a Tzedakka box; the Woman of Valor appreciates each charitable act as a transformation into a higher being. She is not the overwhelmed woman caring for the needs of her husband, children and guests. She understands that each time she extends her hand to help another, she is grabbing an opportunity to grow. She revels in the demands made of her. She does not resent them. She treasures each opportunity to become The Woman Transformed, the true Woman of Valor.

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