This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת בְּשַׁלַּח
“Women of Song”
The Shabbos of Parshas Beshalach is known as Shabbos Shirah as it features the first major Shirah, or passage of prophetic and poetic song in the Torah, so perhaps it would make sense that the Haftarah be chosen from a similarly unique passage in Navi. For this reason alone, perhaps the selection containing another such song in Shoftim [4:4-5:31], Shiras Devorah, makes the perfect Haftarah to be read alongside the Sidrah of Shiras HaYam (Song of the Sea), right? Not so fast, though.
Yes, both sections contain songs, but is that all that these two readings have in common? Moreover, are they the only passages in the entire Tanach that contain prophetic songs? The answer to the second question is certainly “No.” At the end of the Torah, for example, there is Shiras Ha’azinu, the Haftarah for which is taken from another song, Shiras Dovid in Shmuel Beis [22:1-51]. We can certainly make the argument that Shiras Dovid is a fitting Haftarah choice for the Sidrah of Shiras HaYam considering that on Pesach, when Shiras HaYam is read, its Haftarah, then and there, is actually taken from Shiras Dovid and not from Shiras Devorah! So, is this some kind of song-matchup game? Are we just arbitrarily picking and choosing, by the day, which Shirah in Navi to fulfill the Haftarah for each Shirah in the Torah? From the fact that Shiras Dovid is used for both Beshalach and Ha’azinu, and from the fact that Shiras HaYam is complemented by both Shiras Devorah and Shiras Dovid at different times, it certainly seems that way.
It could be that to some extent, yes, our Sages and Rabbis felt that these prophetic songs in the Torah were the focal point of each one’s Sidrah, and that these songs needed to be highlighted, supplemented, and ultimately complemented by prominent songs in Navi. And, it could be that these prophetic songs in the Navi were both considered equally significant enough to do that fulfill that role, and so, the Rabbis maintained an order when selecting these songs as Haftaros, placing the earlier Shiras Devorah with the first major song of the Torah, Shiras HaYam, and the later Shiras Dovid with the final major song of the Torah, Shiras HaYam. But, that does not explain why on Pesach when the same passage of Shiras HaYam is read, the Haftarah of Shiras Devorah is exchanged with Shiras Dovid, giving Shiras Dovid a second turn at being read. Is there a deeper reason for these Haftarah matchups?
So, we’ll have to stay tuned for a discussion about the relationship between Shiras Ha’azinu and Shiras Dovid, and perhaps we need to wait a little as well for a similar discussion between Shiras Dovid and Shiras HaYam on Pesach. But, we’re going to hypothesize that, yes, there may be deeper reasons, perhaps fundamental themes, that can explain why the Haftaros of Shirah are matched up the way they are. Right now, we will focus on the relationship between Shiras HaYam and Shiras Devorah.
Just to get some context for the songs, Shiras HaYam is the song of praise to Hashem that the entire B’nei Yisrael sang after escaping Egypt through the miraculously split Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) while their Egyptian pursuers got caught in the sea and drowned. Shiras Devorah was another victory song, praising G-d after the B’nei Yisrael overcame the army of Cana’ani king Yavin and his army general Sisera during the era of the Shoftim (Judges).
The Stone Edition Artscroll Chumash draws connections between the Haftarah and the Sidrah by not only pointing out the obvious Shirah-factor, but by comparing Israel’s victories over the two oppressive nations—Egypt and Cana’an—as well as G-d’s intervention on their behalf in these battles. But then, the Stone Chumash takes it a step further by pointing out one key connection that we’re going to zero in on, that connection being the heroic role of the Jewish women in both stories.
If we think about this “heroine” factor, we might say that Artscroll really hit the nail on the head. In terms of the Exodus, the Stone Chumash describes the role of Yocheved and Miriam’s protection of Moshe Rabbeinu and about Miriam separately leading the Israelite women in song with instrumental accompaniment after the Splitting of the Sea. Rashi [to Shemos 15:20] already points out, in the name of the Mechilta, that the women had more faith in Hashem’s promise of salvation than the men did, as demonstrated by this fact that they had already prepared drums, tambourines, and other musical instruments for this occasion. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as well, in his book Lessons in Leadership, devotes his entry on Parshas Shemos to the righteous women who heroically impacted the Exodus (including how Shifrah and Pu’ah spared the newborn Hebrews, and how Yocheved, Miriam, Bas Pharaoh and Tzipporah all saved Moshe’s life on different occasions).
So, how about the women in our Haftarah in Shoftim? Here, the Stone Chumash directs our attention to the obvious heroine of the story, Devorah HaNeviah, the only Shofetes, or female Judge. Certainly against the norms of the time, Devorah, a righteous women, was the spiritual leader of the generation who led the army accompanied by Barak Ben Avino’am that took down the Cana’anim in the war. Devorah, in ways like Miriam, leads a song praising Hashem and describing the miraculous victory. Like the heroines of the Exodus, Devorah stands up where no one else will when she is needed to be a messenger of Hashem on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael.
Artscroll has, and continues to do us a wonderful service. Certainly for this discussion, the parallels are there, and the above certainly suffices as an explanation for this Haftarah. However, there is a lot here which must be qualified. As helpful as the above analysis has been thus far, there are important people and points that Artscroll did not touch on.
Devorah was an undoubtedly a righteous women, a successful leader, and even a heroine in her own right, but there is much evidence that she was not the ideal “Jewish heroine,” and in fact, even in this Haftarah, there are two more heroines that we must highlight, who were just as instrumental to the story as Devorah herself. One of these heroines merely requires another look at the story and the other requires us to take a deeper look using some of the commentaries.
The first one is Yael, the wife of Chever HaKeini. Although it was behind the scenes, or at least behind closed doors, Yael’s execution of Sisera in her tent really marked the turning point of the battle, and indeed, Devorah herself was sure to sing Yael’s praise, pointing at her modesty and self-sacrifice.
The other heroine is Devorah, but not Devorah the prophetess and judge, but the first Devorah in all of Tanach, Devorah Meinekes Rivkah, the righteous wet nurse of Rivkah Imeinu. The Navi tells us that the Devorah of Shoftim sat under a date palm when she would judge the B’nei Yisrael [Shoftim 4:5]. According to Abarbanel and various Ba’alei Tosfos, this date palm was the burial spot of Devorah Meinekes Rivkah whose death and burial is oddly inserted into the narrative of Yaakov Avinu’s return to Israel [Bereishis 35:8]. The name connection is cute, but what does that mean and why is this connection significant?
If we were to take an educated guess, we might suggest that perhaps Devorah the prophetess was aware of the significance of the mission and purpose underlying her namesake, and so, she attempted to live up to standards of her righteous predecessor.
Maybe, but, what really do we know about Devorah the nurse? The Torah reveals nothing about her other than the fact that she was the wet nurse of Rivkah, she died, and that she is buried below Beis El under a plateau, Alon Bachus. What, then, can one possibly learn from Devorah Meinekes Rivkah?
Perhaps the little that we know about her tells us everything we need to know. Perhaps we know so little about her because her life was iconic of the ultimate form of modesty, even in the place of apparent greatness. If she was a nurse for Rivkah Imeinu—if she was a caregiver of any kind for one of our matriarchs, that is a big deal. Moreover, it shows that she was someone who clearly devoted her life to what she saw as being a greater cause than herself, without taking credit for it. She did all of that, yet, she is only recognized—or even mentioned when she’s not alive to appreciate it. She is the image of modesty, and as such, she doesn’t require the fanfare; the history that followed her actions and services speaks for itself, as the final line of Mishlei/Eishes Chayil puts it [Mishlei 31:31], “Tinu Lah M’Pri Yodehah ViHalleluha BaShiarim Ma’asehah”-“Give her from the fruit of her own handiwork, and her let her be praised in the gates by her own deeds.”
Thus, it could be that the tradition that connects the two “Devorah”s is intimating that in spite of Devorah HaNeviah’s being in the limelight, she most values and praises the likes of Devorah Meinekes Rivkah and Yael as the ideal icons for the womanly hero in Torah.
What emerges is that despite the undoubted women that she was, Devorah HaNeviah is not what we would call the ideal Torah heroine. Her very position did not lend itself to fit the Torah’s delicate picture of an Eishes Chayil, and when Devorah apparently let her accomplishment get to her head (on her exalted level), Chazzal tell us that she began to lose her Divine inspiration [See Rashi to 5:12 citing Pesachim 66B]. Her position itself does not take away from the incredible impact that she made or from the incredible person she was—specifically, as a person. Certainly, Devorah HaNeviah did what she had to do as Shofetes when there was no fitting man for the role of Shofeit, and indeed, it says in Pirkei Avos [2:6], “B’Makom Sh’Ein Anashim Hishtadeil Lehiyos Ish”-“In a place where there are no men, strive to be man.” However, that was a desperate measure designated for a desperate time. It was not the optimal situation. She did what she needed to do, yet, as we pointed out earlier, Devorah herself brings attention to and praises the discreet heroism of the woman that should rightfully shine, Yael [See Shoftim 4:17-21; 5:24-27]. Clearly, the Jewish heroine is a major but modest role. It is for this reason that Yael is the one whom Devorah refers to as “Tevorach MiNashim”-“most blessed among women.”
Compare the heroines of our Haftarah back to the heroines of the Exodus. Yocheved/Shifrah, Miriam/Pu’ah, Basyah/Bas-Pharaoh, and Tzipporah all made an undeniably great impact on the salvation. The redemption came about largely through their heroic self-sacrifice, their faith, and their determination on behalf of the Will of G-d. But, all the while, these women never took center stage. Their tremendous heroism could only be matched and perhaps perfected by their modesty. Each of them, in their own way, was an Eishes Chayil, yes, deserving of praise, but humble enough to not require or even desire it.
So, every now and then, we’re given a glimpse so that we can at least have some appreciation of the modest heroines. In Sefer Bereishis, slight tribute is paid to Devorah Meinekes Rivkah. In our Sidrah, we recognize Miriam and the righteous women who followed her. And finally, in our Haftarah, Devorah acknowledges and sings of the true “Tevorach MiNashim.”
In the end though, modesty is a key component of, but by no means limited to, the role of Jewish women. We don’t need to be on the scene like Moshe Rabbeinu to make the greatest impact possible. Certainly, if need be, sometimes, even a Devorah must stand up to bring out the Will of Hashem. Moshe himself was the humblest of humans and did not want to be on the scene, yet, that is exactly where Hashem put him! Indeed, if that’s where Hashem places us, then that is where we ought to be. But, the hidden heroines of the Exodus and of Shoftim show us that there is a special song designated for the righteousness and impact made by the modest. It’s a song that one can’t ask for, a song that one cannot even want, but a song that necessarily sings itself for those truly deserving.
May we all be Zocheh to learn from humility and modesty of our heroes and heroines, strive to reach their level of righteousness, make whatever impact we’re called upon to make, and be messengers in the ultimate Geulah, in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Shirah!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂