Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Story of Devorah HaNeviah

[Shabbos Parshas Beshallach is known as Shabbos Shirah, because of the song which the Jews sang to G-d at the Splitting of the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt. The matching Haftorah is the song sung by Devorah the Prophetess (Shirat Devorah) after the Jews won their battle against Sisera]

Devorah was the only woman who was both a Judge and a Prophet. The only man who accomplished that feat was Shmuel/Samuel who bridged the Period of the Judges and the Prophets.

According to Rashi, there were forty eight male prophets and seven female prophetesses. The seven prophetesses were Sarah (wife of Avraham) Miriam (sister of Moshe and Aharon), Devorah, Chana (mother of Shmuel), Avigail (wife of David) Chuldah and Esther.

Devorah's style is described as "sitting under the date palm of Devorah," meaning that for reasons of "tzniut," or modesty, she did not wish to meet with male litigants in private. Therefore, she "set up court," performing her duties as Magistrate and as Teacher and Transmitter of Torah, in the great out-of-doors.

The Midrash places her in good company when it says of her that "Moshe, David and Devorah sang to Hashem and the Holy Spirit rested upon them." [Mechilta Beshalach 6]

The date of the reign of Devorah was 1130 B.C.E. The People of Israel had been oppressed by Yavin, King of Canaan, and his fearsome general, Sisera, for twenty years. In a prophetic message from Hashem to Devorah, Hashem informs her that the time has come to cast off the yolk of the King of Canaan, and that the task should be performed by Barak ben Avinoam along with a small army of 10,000 men taken mainly from the Tribes of Naftali and Zevulun. Other Tribes were also expected to help, but no specific numbers were required.

Sisera, hearing of this surprising and presumptuous challenge from the People of Israel, determines to destroy their army completely. He assembles a force of nine hundred iron chariots (each the probable equivalent of a modern battle tank) plus, according to Targum Yonatan 5:8, 40,000 Officers, 50,000 swordsmen, 60,000 spear throwers, 70,000 shield carriers, and 80,000 regular soldiers - the total of which by the ordinary rules of war would be expected to totally annihilate the miniscule army of Israel, G-d forbid.

But the battle is a victory for Israel, though Sisera has received aid from all the Kings of Canaan, who likewise wish to destroy Israel. Israel receives miraculous aid from the forces of Nature, caused of course by their Director. The stars approach the battlefield, scalding the army of Sisera, and causing them to seek refuge in the waters of the River of Kishon. But those waters, usually shallow, miraculously rise and drown all the forces of Sisera - that is, all but him.

Sisera, shocked and stunned by the outcome of the battle, staggers in the direction of the Tent of Chever the Kenite, who has a peace treaty with Yavin, the overall King of Canaan. Chever's wife, Yael, emerges from the tent and gestures to him to come into her tent for protection. She plies him with warm milk, and he falls asleep. She seizes a tent peg and a hammer, and drives the peg between his eyebrows, through his head and into the ground, definitely and thoroughly killing him.

When Barak, in hot pursuit of Sisera, arrives, Yael says, "the one you are looking for is in my tent, and he is quite dead."

The People of Israel follow up their victory by applying intensifying pressure on Yavin until they completely break his hold on them and in fact reverse their roles. Peace is obtained for a long period of time, forty years, in the context of those tumultuous times.

"All salvation comes by virtue of women." [The Alter Rebbe]

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