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Deborah the Prophetess

by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales

  

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In Eastern countries, in the days of old, and even nowadays among the Arabs and other backward peoples, women are usually looked down upon by men, and they are often treated not much better than servants or even slaves. This has never been the case in the Jewish family, where the Jewish woman is called "the foundation of the home," because of the many duties she has in keeping a Kosher home, bringing up the children in the Jewish way of life and generally helping create the right "atmosphere" of Torah and Mitzvahs in the Jewish home. Every Friday night, when the men folk come from Shul, finding the table set for the holy Shabbath, with the candles giving a glow of light and warmth throughout the home, the father and the boys sing that well-known hymn "Eishet Chayil", to the Jewish "Woman of Worth," which was composed by King Solomon in the Proverbs. We are proud of the Mothers of our people, and are proud especially of the fact that we had seven women prophetesses, who played an important part in shaping the history, of our people, and who inspire us to this day. One of these seven prophetesses was Deborah, whose story we bring you here, and whose famous "Song of Deborah" we read on the very Shabbath when we read the famous "Song of Moses," which was recited for the first time after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.

Deborah used to sit under a palm-tree and speak to the people who flocked to hear her words of wisdom and encouragement, which lifted them out of their despair
Deborah lived more than three thousand years ago, about the year 2650 after Creation. This was less than 200 years after Joshua led the Jewish people into the Holy Land (in the year 2488). The period in which Deborah lived is known as the period of the judges, and she was in fact the Judge in her time.

This was the time when the Jewish people had not yet become united under one king, which came later, in the time of King Saul and King David. During Deborah's time the twelve tribes of Israel lived more or less independently, each one in his part of the country. The neighboring peoples often took advantage of this fact, making trouble now for one tribe, now for another. The trouble came whenever the Jewish people abandoned the ways and laws of the Torah and started to imitate the ways of their heathen neighbors. But under the cruel oppression of the enemy, they cried out to G-d and returned to Him with all their heart. Then G-d sent them a great leader who delivered them from the oppression, and continued to teach them and keep them in the way of the Torah as long as he lived. When this leader, who was called judge, passed on, the Jews, left without a spiritual guide, fell back into their old ways, and immediately trouble waited at their door.

So it was in the time of Deborah. It was the cruel Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor who mercilessly oppressed the Jews. He had an equally cruel and brutal general named Sisera who, for twenty years, did everything possible to make the lives of his Jewish neighbors miserable. When the Jews could stand it no longer, they cried out to G-d to send them a deliverer.

At that time there lived a wise and G-d fearing, woman named Deborah who, in the midst of sin and idolatry, remained loyal and true to Judaism. She and her husband Lapidoth lived in a place between Ramah and Beth-El, in the mountain of Ephraim.

Deborah used to sit under a palm-tree and speak to the people who flocked to hear her words of wisdom and encouragement, which lifted them out of their despair, G-d told Deborah to free her people from the oppression of the cruel Jabin and Sisera. So she sent for Barak the son of Abinoam and asked him to head the Jewish army and lead it to victory against the Canaanites. Barak agreed to accept Deborah's plan, on condition that she would accompany the Jewish army into battle.


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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Joshua
1. Assumed the leadership of the Jewish people after Moses died in 1267 BCE. He split the Jordan River and led the Jewish people in their conquest of the Promised Land. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which chronicles Joshua's leadership.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Shul
(Yiddish) Synagogue.
Jethro
Moses' father-in-law.
Saul
First king of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel in 878 BCE. Was dethroned because he failed to carry out G-d's command, and the royal crown was transferred to King David and his descendents.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
Proverbs
One of the 24 books of the Bible. A collection of moral writings authored by King Solomon.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.