Have you noticed that pearls have made a major comeback in the fashion world? I see more and more of them everywhere—on the fashion runway, on red carpets all over the world, in political circles and high society—and I can’t help but think that unbeknown to the fashion world, in a certain sense Jewish women have been “leading the pearl trend” for more than 2,000 years.

King Solomon says in the first verse of Eishet Chayil: “Who can find a woman of valor? She is more precious than pearls.”Why not diamonds? Gold? Precious gems? I like pearls; I’ve liked them long before their new shelf life. But I wonder, why pearls? Why not diamonds? Gold? Precious gems? Wouldn’t any of these have been a more fitting choice for Jewish women’s praise?

I think that King Solomon’s words allude to something beyond the external value and/or beauty of a given “gem.” There is something intrinsic to a pearl itself that explains the analogy to Jewish women.

The natural process that forms pearls is something many of us can relate to. Pearls emerge when an irritant—sand, a parasite, a tiny piece of sediment, something—enters an oyster. As a defense mechanism, the oyster begins to secrete a substance around the irritant. It creates layers upon layers of nacre around it. Over time, the fully covered irritant becomes what we know as a pearl.

We all have “irritants” in our lives—things that bother us, things that challenge us, things that make us ache. Most often, we have no control over those things, nor when, where and how they come to “attack” us. What we can control is how we react to them. It seems to me that the Torah is trying to remind us that we Jewish women have a “defense mechanism” to adversity that also gives birth to pearls. We have the ability to turn those inevitable irritants of life into something precious and beautiful.

Scientists deem the formation of pearls one of nature’s great mysteries. They are still unable to recreate this phenomenon outside of the oyster. Even cultured pearls are made when humans implant an irritant into the oyster; there is no other way to create a pearl. Similarly, while we understand that G‑d created a natural system in which greatness emerges out of the depth of our struggles, the mystery remains as to why He wills it so.

As I was writing this, a friend of mine, Devorah, stopped by my table at the coffee shop where I was sitting. We had just seen each other 12 hours earlier, at a meeting where nearly 20 Jewish women gathered to plan how to help a fellow Jewish woman, a mother of six, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

After a warm hello, we optimistically conversed about the fervent belief that our friend’s situation will turn around for the better. Devorah then said to me: “Despite what I went through, Yael, I truly believe that this will be OK. She will go back healthy to her six kids.”

MyMy friend is no stranger to challenge friend is no stranger to challenge, having lost her son, only 6 years old, to cancer two years ago. I smiled in agreement. Then she told me: “In life, even in the pain, we have to find purpose. Today, knowing that I can help others with similar situations as the one I went through is what propels me forward.”

That exchange and the words of King Solomon still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if this trend in popular culture foreshadows a joyous time in which we will see all of the beautiful pearls that emerge from our personal struggles artfully stranded together as a masterpiece—a beautiful answer to the “why” of it all.