The Most Difficult Question
A Life Lessons Story
by Chana Klein
This story is dedicated to women of valor and the men who love them.
A Woman of Valor is called an Eishet Chayil in Proverb 31.
A Jew sings Proverb 31, Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Valor), every Friday night. According to the words of Eishet Chayil, a woman of valor is like superwoman, able to do everything and to do it well.
For example, an Eishet Chayil is a perfect woman who is the foundation of her home.
She is never lazy.
She is industrious, financially successful, reliable, trustworthy, resourceful, kind, wise, a helpmate, and everything else that is good.
An Eishet Chayil even does the laundry, and the cooking, and she is an accomplished business woman as well.
She works at the physical world and that expands her spiritually.
The proverb actually states all that!
So what is it that brings out that potential for valor in a woman?
The Story: What Does A Woman of Valor Really Want?
The story takes place in an old Yiddish town in Central Europe.
It is the Jewish month of Tishrei which falls in September.
The young King Liron, is captured and imprisoned by the monarch of a much more powerful neighboring kingdom.
The ruler of the powerful monarch is about to kill him because of an ancient family feud.
The Difficult Question
Despite that, the king smiles at the ruler and displays great warmth.
This gives the ruler second thoughts.
“I was planning on cutting off your head.” He tells him.
“But I like you and so I am offering you your freedom – with one condition – that you answer a very difficult question. And I will give you one year to figure out the answer. If, after a year, you still have no answer, you will be killed for sure.”
“What is the question?” the king asks.
The captor states ; “What does a woman of valor really want?”
Now, such a question would perplex even the most knowledgeable Yid.
To the young Liron, it is just plain impossible to answer.
Nevertheless, finding an answer is preferable to death.
So he accepts the monarch’s proposition to have an answer by the end of the month of Elul, a year from this time.
King Liron returns to his kingdom. He sets out to interview everybody; the princess, the cooks, the rabbis, the wise men, the court jester and even the children in the palace.
He speaks with everyone.
But no one could give him a satisfactory answer.
The only clue, or piece of advice, that he gets is to consult the old machasheifa (ugly witch) who lived in the shtetl (town).
People told him that she is the only one who would know the answer.
They added that she is an expert hondler (bargainer). And so the price would be quite exorbitant as the machasheifa was notorious for.
King Liron puts off his quest.
Now it is already Elul, the end of the Jewish year, and poor King Liron has no alternative but to talk to the machasheifa.
He commands a horse and carriage to be drawn.
It stops in front of the machasheifa’s door and the king’s men knock.
When the machasheifa comes to the door, the kings’ men assist the king into the machasheifa’s dingy hovel.
He explains to her his plight.
The machasheifa agrees to answer his question. But, as he has been warned, he will have to accept her price.
What is her price?
The old machasheifa wants to marry the king’s closest friend, Amichai who is the most noble of the Knights of the Round Table.
The young king is horrified. The machasheifa is hunchbacked and totally hideous. She has only one tooth. Her skin tone has many shades of blue and red. Her eyes slant in different directions.
She smells like a sewer and often makes obscene noises. He has never encountered such a repugnant creature.
He simply can’t force his friend to marry her and to have to endure such tsoris (suffering).
Word gets to Amichai about the proposal. He immediately travels to the palace to speak with the king. When the king explains that he will not hear of it. Amichai reminds the king of what a good friend he has been to him. Nothing is too big a sacrifice for Amichai compared to the king’s life and the preservation of the Round Table.
And so, the wedding is planned. It is to be a huge simcha (celebration).
Now, the machasheifa is ready to answer the king’s question: What does a woman of valor really want?
“What a woman really wants,” she announces, “is to be the person she really is and to be to be wildly desired that way.”
Ooohs and Ahhhs are expressed by the crowd. Every person instantly knows that the machasheifa has articulated a profound truth and that the king’s life will be spared.
So it happens. The neighboring monarch gobbles up the answer and spares the king’s life. The king is granted full freedom and the promise of never being captured again and the old family feud forgiven.
What a wedding Amichai and the machasheifa have!
The king is torn between relief and anguish.
Amichai is proper as always, gentle and courteous.
Despite Amichai’s gentle ways, the old machasheifa puts her worst manners on display. She eats with her hands, uses her sleeves instead of a napkin, belches and passes gas.
She makes everyone uncomfortable.
The Wedding Night
The wedding night is here.
Amichai, girds himself in preparation for a horrific night.
He enters the bedroom with his eyes almost closed, in fear of the horror that awaits him.
He opens his eyes.
What a sight was before him.
It is the most beautiful woman he’d ever rested his eyes upon.
Astounded, Amichai asks what happened.
The beautiful one replies that since he has been so kind to her when she’s been a machasheifa, from now on, half the time she will be her hideous, deformed self. And the other half, she will be her beautiful Eishet Chayil self.
She then asks Amichai to make a choice. “Which do you want me to be during the day and which during the night? The choice is yours. It is almost cruel to ask such a tough question!
Amichai thought about his dilemma. He could have during the day, a beautiful Eishet Chayil to show off to his friends, but at night, in the privacy of his home, an old spooky machasheifa. Or he could choose having, by day, a hideous machasheifa, but by night a beautiful Eishet Chayil to enjoy many intimate moments.
So what did he choose? What would you advise? What would you choose? Please decide before reading on.
The Righteous Amichai answers that he will let her choose for herself who she wants to be. He will want her to be who she really is and that he will seek to understand, acknowledge and desire her in that way.
Upon hearing this, she announces that she will be the beautiful Eishet Chayil all of the time, because he had respected her and had encouraged her be who she really is.
The gentleness, understanding, and acceptance that Amichai gave his new wife brought out her Eishet Chayil self.
What an Eishet Chayil Really Wants
What an Eishet Chayil really wants is to be her authentic self and to be understood that way.
When a person is free of misunderstanding, of judgment, and experiences love for whom she really is, she has the greatest potential to be her true Eishet Chayil self, a Woman of Valor.
Copyright ©2015 Chana Klein