Haftarah Parshat Beshallach
January 11, 2014
10 Shevat 5774
The book of Judges has a very clear worldview. The history of the people operates in a circular pattern. The people are conquered and oppressed on account of their sins. God hears their outcry and sends them a savior to redeem them. The savior restores peace and tranquility for a while until the people again transgress and the process starts all over again. There are many questions which can be raised regarding this “redemptive theology”, but one thing is clear, God was always able to find the right person to save the day. Does God create leaders “ex nihilo”, out of nowhere to fit a given situation or does He take those who are already prepared for the task at hand?
Deborah was the heroine chosen by God to rescue the children of Israel from the hands of Jabin, the king of Canaan and his general, Sisera. She is described as “a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she led Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for decisions.” (4:4-5)
In the following midrash, Deborah finds herself in auspicious company: “Who is fit to speak? ‘There is a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish…a man of substance. He had a son whose name was Saul, an excellent young man… he was a head taller than any of the other people.’ (1 Samuel 9:1-2) Who was fit to speak? ‘There was a Jew in the city of Shushan by the name of Mordechai’ (Esther 2:5) Who was fit to speak? ‘And Moses was a shepherd’ (Exodus 3:1) Who was fit to speak? ‘Deborah was a prophetess.’” (adapted from Midrash Shmuel 13:6, Lipshitz ed., p. 48)
This midrash seems to assert that God does not choose people who are ill-prepared for the responsibility that He thrusts upon them. Their leadership was not coincidental. Rather God had prepared them for the task at hand. (Lipshitz, p. 279) There are redemptive moments in the world which God has created – moments yearning for God’s light, when darkness seems to have swallowed up the light. The book of Judges tells us that God remembers those who need Him in those moments and prepares the way for redemption by ensuring that there are those ready to step in to fix things. Like Deborah in her generation, we can only hope, so too in ours.
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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