Haftarah Parshat Beshalah
February 4, 2012
11 Shevat 5772
The book of Judges operates according to a well-known pattern. The Children of Israel do wrong in the eyes of God. God imposes upon them subservience to an outside power. In response, they cry out to God and then God sends a savior to rescue them from the oppression. The story of Deborah the prophetess seemingly follows this pattern. The people found disfavor before God. He sent Jabin, king of Canaan, to oppress them. They cried out and then Deborah was sent to save them. The storyline, though, is more complicated. Deborah is not exactly the savior. There are two other figures involved as well. Deborah employs Barak the son of Abinoam as her general who, with Deborah’s assistance, defeats Jabin’s forces. Still, the rout is completed by Jael who does in Sisera, the defeated Canaanite military commander. There is no single human savior in this story and perhaps that is the point of the story, all of which directs our attention to the fact that there is an ultimate savior, God, behind the machinations of the story.
This idea is further reinforced by the second part of this week’s haftarah, known as the Song of Deborah, which doubles both as a paean to the victory but more importantly as an ode to God. The following midrash fits this song into its likely religious outlook: It is written: “’The day is Yours, the night is also Yours’ (Ps. 74:16): to You (God) the day gives praise, to You the night gives praise as well. Just as the day is under Your control, so, too, the night is under Your control. When You perform miracles for us by day, \’ The day is Yours‘; and when You perform miracles for us by night, \’The night is also Yours.’ When You perform miracles for us by day, we sing songs to You by day; and when You perform miracles for us by night, we sing songs to You by night. You performed miracles for us by day, and we sang to You by day: ‘On that day Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang’ (Judg. 5:1). You performed miracles for us by night, and we sang to You by night: ‘For You there shall be singing as on a night when a feast is hallowed.’ (Isaiah 30:29). (adapted from Bereishit Rabbah 6:2 Theodore Albeck ed. p. 41)
God performs miracles for us day and night. He is constantly involved in our redemption even when, or, especially when, we are actively involved. It is appropriate for us to discern the miracles in our lives and even more so to show our appreciation. Deborah and Barak were heroic not only in their action; they were equally heroic in their cognizance of God’s hand in their success and their consequent gratitude.
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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