Haftorah B’Shalach (Shabbat Shirah)

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This week is Shabbat Shirah, the week we read Parshah B’Shalach, which contains the Song of the Sea. The accompanying reading is the Song of Deborah, for obvious reasons. It’s the longest Haftorah of the whole year, Judges 4:4-5:31, although the Sephardim, curse ’em, skip chapter four and start in with the song itself. This is just like those crazy Baghdadi sunsab—

Sorry. Anyway, Judges 4:4-5:31

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, [saying], Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, [then] I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

Now Heber the Kenite, [which was] of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which [is] by Kedesh. And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor. And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, [even] nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that [were] with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.

And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this [is] the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all [his] chariots, and all [his] host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off [his] chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; [and] there was not a man left. Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for [there was] peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.

And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No. Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.

And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her [tent], behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail [was] in his temples. So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, [even] I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing [praise] to the LORD God of Israel.

LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. The mountains melted from before the LORD, [even] that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel. In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. [The inhabitants of] the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel. They chose new gods; then [was] war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? My heart [is] toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD. Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way. [They that are delivered] from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, [even] the righteous acts [toward the inhabitants] of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.

Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty. Out of Ephraim [was there] a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. And the princes of Issachar [were] with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben [there were] great thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben [there were] great searchings of heart. Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches. Zebulun and Naphtali [were] a people [that] jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field. The kings came [and] fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon.

O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones. Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, [and] she gave [him] milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot [so] long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots? Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself, Have they not sped? have they [not] divided the prey; to every man a damsel [or] two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, [meet] for the necks of [them that take] the spoil? So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but [let] them that love him [be] as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.

And the land had rest forty years.


OK, the obvious lesson here is not to be bar mitzvah on Shabbat Shirah, and the second obvious lesson is that Deborah is a full-fledged Judge, a Strong Woman in ScriptureTM, and that Jael kicks ass. I’ll just mention that D’vorah, or Deborah, is a sort of pun on daver, to speak, or to sing. Uri, uri, D’vorah, Uri, uri, d’vray-shir, in 5:12. The derivation is different (the name means swarm of bees, and Jael means mountain goat, although it also is a pun on yah and el, two of the Divine names).

Jael, by the way, is not Jewish. She’s married, as it says, to Heber, who is “at peace” with General Sisera’s boss the king, and when Sisera, lost and abandoned, his armies routed, seeks rest, she takes him in, lulls him into a false sense of false security, and then, whammo!

Not really very admirable, is it? But Deborah praises her above all women, and from her point of view, it’s terrific. And the land had rest forty years, which wasn’t bad, either, although one has to wonder if Sisera had been sent back to Jabin intact but ruined, whether that would have been good enough. In the miniseries Rome, our legionnaire interlocutors show Pompey defeated and alone, without warriors, without defense, without friends, and they let him go. Caesar (inexplicably hirsute) berates them, saying that Pompey alive is a magnet for discontents and rebels. Then the Egyptians, seeking to curry favor with Caesar, have Pompey killed, and Caesar berates them, saying that Pompey was a Consul of Rome, and as such, deserved better. He’s right both times, of course. What is needed is someone to kill Osama Pompey Sisera without mercy, without trial and without orders, and then to take the rap for it.

Only Deborah praises Jael above all women. I’ve always liked Jael, and I’ve always liked Deborah, but for some reason, at this year’s Sabbath of Song, the cold-blooded murder of a defenseless war criminal leaves me troubled.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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