Haftarah Parshat Beshalah (Judges 4:4-5:31)
February 11, 2017 / 15 Shevat 5777
It is important to pay close attention to how a story is told. The message is in the details. The children of Israel had been subjugated by Jabin, king of the Philistines, for twenty years. When they cried out to God, expressing their troubles, God answered them and had them redeemed. There were three human protagonists in the story: Deborah, Barak and Yael. Deborah was the leader of the people and Barak, the general whom she assigned to do battle with this bitter enemy. For his part, Barak refused to lead the forces on his own and only agreed to do battle if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah acceded to his request but cautioned him that any victory against the enemy would not be achieved at his hands. The battle went well and the enemy general, Sisera, was forced to escape. He fled to the tent of Yael who promised to hide him from Barak. Neither Barak nor Deborah finalized the victory. That achievement was left for Yael who killed Sisera while he slept in her tent.
Who saved the children of Israel? Who deserved the accolades? The plot is very clear on this point, or is it? Was it Deborah? Well, she was the leader of the people but she did not lead the people in battle. Barak did that, but he had refused to go it alone and the ultimate victory was not his either. Was it Yael, who capped off the victory when she killed Sisera. She, however, was not responsible for the military victory. Still, it was she who came out of nowhere to complete the redemption.
The story deliberately seems to refuse to assign to any one individual the role of savior. Each character played a part in the victory. This was most certainly intentional. No single protagonist was intended to be the “Protagonist” in this story of redemption. That seems to be the point.
By parceling out the responsibility for the victory, the characters in this “play” are intended to be seen as instruments of God’s redemptive powers and not actors operating totally of their own volition. This is the real message of the story.
Each of the characters in this story is a heroic figure. Each could see him or herself in redemptive terms. This story serves as a reminder that each of us is a part of a picture larger than ourselves. It is a reminder that even when we do something great, it is not exclusively about us. Ultimately, we are asked to see ourselves as actors working together to carry out God’s redemptive vision of the world.
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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