Devorah the Prophetess

June 14, 2006

Devorah was a Prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth; she judged Israel at that time. And she sat under the palm tree of Devorah, between Ramah and Beit-El in the mountain of Ephraim, and the Children of Israel came to her for judgment.” (Shophtim 4:4-5)

The Tanach has introduced us to an immensely talented woman, who was the third of the seven Prophetesses in the history of the Jewish People, following Sarah and Miriam, and preceding Chanah, Avigail, Chuldah and Esther. She was also the fourth of the fifteen Judges, who led the Jewish People in the Land of Israel after the time of Yehoshua and before the beginning of the Monarchy. The time period of the “Shophtim” was approximately 1394 B.C.E. till approx. 1060 B.C.E., a period of some 334 years. (Modern scholarship has compressed the time period of the Shophtim to extending from 1225 B.C.E. till 1020 B.C.E., some 205 years). Devorah’s time in office was approx. 1296 B.C.E. till approx. 1249 B.C.E., some 47 years.

The main event in her lifetime was the battle against Yavin, King of Canaan, who had been oppressing the Jewish People for twenty years. She is commanded by HaShem to instruct Barak ben Avinoam to take 10,000 men of Israel and fight against the Army of Sisera, General of Yavin, who possessed a fearsome 900-chariot Army. Barak initially refuses to go without her direct support. She agrees to accompany him, but informs him that he has forfeited for all time the glory of being the victor in the battle, to a woman.

The battle is a rout. “And the L-rd confused Sisera and all of the camp with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled on foot… And Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Yael, the wife of Chever the Kenite, for there was peace between Yavin, the King of Chatzor and the House of Chever the Kenite.” Yael lures Sisera into her tent, offers him milk and a place to rest and, while he is sleeping, plants a tent-peg in his head. When Barak appears, Yael shows him the dead Sisera.

Devorah and Barak sing an immortal Song of Thanksgiving to HaShem. In that song, the Tribes of Yissachar, Zevulun and Naftali are explicitly praised for their bravery, while Reuven and Dan are scolded for their hesitancy. Yael is singled out for praise as the heroine who delivered Sisera. Sisera’s mother is mocked and the Song concludes with:

“So may perish all your enemies, O L-rd;
But they that love Him should be as the sun
When he goes forth in his might.” (Shophtim 5:31)