Haftarah Parshat Beshalah
January 15, 2011
10 Shevat 5771
Deborah was, in part, an anomaly for the rabbinic tradition. While the Talmud acknowledges a list of women whom it considered prophetesses, only Deborah seems to have been a prophetess, a leader and a judge: \”And Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess, she led (judged) Israel at that time.\” (4:4) Today, we would not consider this phenomenon at all unusual, but this certainly was not the rule in earlier times. It is interesting to examine how earlier sources explained what for them was atypical.
The following midrash from Eliahu Rabbah, a ninth century moralistic work, was typical of this genre: \”What characterized Deborah that she judged Israel and prophesied regarding them? Wasn\’t Pinchas ben Elazar still around? I bring heaven and earth to bear witness upon me, that whether among man or woman, among slave or maidservant, everyone according to his/her deeds, the Holy Spirit is upon him/her. They said: \’Deborah\’s husband was a common man (uneducated).\’ She said to him: \’Come let us make lamp wicks and go to the sanctuary in Shiloh. This way you will number among other good people and you will have a place in the world to come.\’ He made thick wicks, so that they might provide much light (that is why he is called \’Lappidot\’ – torches). She said to him: \’You applied yourself sincerely and made thick wicks so that they should provide lots of light, may there be many like you be in Judea, Israel and in all of the twelve tribes.\’ Who prompted Lappidot to be so good and special that he should merit a place in the world to come? They say: \’It was Deborah, his wife.\’ Regarding her and those like her and those who do deeds like hers, it is said: \’The wisest of women builds her house.\’ (Proverbs 14:1)\” (adapted from Eliahu Rabbah, Ish Shalom ed. 10)
Deborah, as described in this midrash, was blessed with the gift of being able to give people direction and to help them bring out their best qualities. She helped her husband to turn his efforts to a good cause, benefiting the greater good and enhancing his own life in the process. One can only assume that she helped direct others as well. These special qualities of leadership make her uniquely qualified to lead the people and made her a model to emulate in all generations.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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