Shirat Devorah -

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Resource Type: Shiur in: English
Age: 12-16
Group Size: 5-30
Estimated Time: 30 minutes

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Resource Goal

Backround: Since there are many different ways to present and teach this Perek and so many different things to focus on, I included a lot, but you guys can choose which of these aspects you want to discuss in your shiur.

Goals: Chanichim will understand the messages and the various themes in Shirat Devorah, why Devorah sings Shirah after this battle, and why we should sing Shirah in general.

Resource Contents

Written by- Sarah Gordon

Many of the ideas from these shiruim are adapted from the book "Shofet HaShoftim" by Yisroel Rozenson, published by Machon Herzog.

Machal Shiur #8: Perek 5:

Backround: Since there are many different ways to present and teach this Perek and so many different things to focus on, I included a lot, but you guys can choose which of these aspects you want to discuss in your shiur.

Goals: Chanichim will understand the messages and the various themes in Shirat Devorah, why Devorah sings Shirah after this battle, and why we should sing Shirah in general.

Themes in Shirat Devorah:

  1. The army of Bnei Israel was very small and weak and would not have been able to win the battle against Sisera without the intervention of Hashem

    1. Pesukim 7-8 There are no weapons in Am Israel, theres no way they could fight the battle against the iron chariots without G-d intervening.

    2. Pesukim 19-21 G-d intervened in a miraculous way. When the battle went down, Am Israel was up on Har Tavor, where the chariots couldnt reach them. Sisera took his chariots and was waiting in the Wadi/River bed down below Nachal Kishon. Usually at this time of year the riverbed was dry (think of any hike you do where there is just a little water but the stream is dry so you can hike through it) so Sisera thought it was fine to have his chariots there. But there was a miracle (this is not seen in Perek 4, really only through the way the battle is described in Perek 5) and the riverbed filled up with water and G-d messed up the chariot wheels of Siseras chariots (like Pharohs chariots in the Yam Suf) and the riverbed miraculously overflowed (when at this time of year there should not be enough rain for this to happen) and Bnei Israels enemies were taken out in a huge way since their military advantage the chariots became useless. G-d used nature and a rainstorm to help defeat Am Israels enemies.

But this was only able to happen because Hashem fought for them as it says in Pesukim 20-21, the stars fought for them, the raging torrent of Nachal Kishon swept them away.

  1. The lack of unity of the Shevatim

    1. We see that only a few Shevatim came to help fight and it was only the tribes that were directly affected by Sisera and Canaan in the North: Efrayim, Zevulun, Binyamin. The other Shevatim were fine with staying in their own area and not helping the other Shevatim fight. Ask the chanichim: What is wrong with this? Should they feel obligated to come help? Why, its not their battle? You can compare it to the beginning of Shoftim where the Shevatim also were not unified and would not help each other (except for Yehuda and Shimon) to conquer the land, which started off all the problems in Shoftim in general.

    2. Devora as a leader is not afraid to praise those who stepped up to the call and came to fight (the abovementioned Shevatim) in Pesukim 13-15, but she also gives harsh mussar and critique to those Shevatim who did not come and help their brothers. Look at Pesukim 15- 18, Devora challenges Reuven why did you stay with your sheep and not come help?? (Remember, Reuven in general lives on the other side of the Yarden and Moshe didnt want to let them live there because he thought they wouldnt come help and fight with Am Israel). Asher why did you stay at the sea coast taking care of your business deals and ships but not helping the rest of the nation fight?? Dan where were you? Hanging out at the coast also, only caring about yourselves??

Ask the chanichim: What leadership tactics do we see here with Devora? When is it appropriate for a leader to give critism? What do you think about the fact that these other tribes didnt come and help? What would you have told them had you been Devora?

Leadership Scenario: You can compare it to a camp scenario; in Machal everyone is helping to clean up the camp site but 4 chanichim wander off and go to sleep instead of helping. They say they cleaned up their own bags and tents so why do they need to help other people? What does it mean to be part of a group to have group responsibility?

c. We see this lack of achdut continue with the Shevatim, leading to Avimelech killing his brothers, Yiftach attacking Shevet Efrayim, and the huge civil war with Binyamin at the end of Shoftim.

  1. Devorah describes the good women and the bad women of the story, praises or criticizing them Herself, Yael and Em Sisera.

    1. Devorah contrasts herself to Em Sisera. Devorah calls herself Em BYisrael (Pasuk 7). Already we see here (as in the last shiur) that leadership here is coming from the women from the sidelines. People who dont usually step up are taking a leadership role. The Tanakh is comparing and contrasting the behavior of Devorah and Yael, who step up and are brave leaders, trying to help the Jewish People, with that of Em Sisera who comes off as very negative and selfish.

    2. Em Sisera: Have the chanichim read Pesukim 28-30. What do they think about Em Siseras reaction about her son? What is she worried about? (Her son dieing in battle). Is that a legitimate worry? It seems yes (In fact we learn out the number of Shofar blows from the midrash on these pesukim; the midrash says Em Sisera cried 101 times, so we blow the shofar 100 times to combat her lo lishmah cries, but we allow her 1 cry since a mothers cry for her child is always legitimate- at least once). What answer appeases Em Sisera? That Sisera is busy dividing up the spoil and booty he captured in the war meaning that all of Am Israels army has been destroyed, and he is busy taking spoils and raping the women. Look at the imagery given to describe women here; racham rachamatayim lish gever (pasuk 30). She describes women as racham - meaning, womb. This shows how much she is objectifying women here (despite being a woman herself!) and she is calmed down by the fact that her son is raping women and treated them like objects, only for their wombs. She is glorifying what the Torah forbids raping women on the battle field is assur, you are only allowed to do Eshet Yefat Toar (Devarim ), and even then that is clearly not ideal. This is the total opposite of Devorah Em BYisrael, where she tries to lead and be a parent for Am Israel, giving mussar and chizzuk when necessary, but leading. Unlike Em Sisera, who cares about her son, but apparently, not much else! Have the chanichim come to a conclusion as to what message the text is trying to give us about Em Sisera.

    3. Yael: Have the chanichim read Pesukim 24-27. What is so great about what Yael does? Why is she called tevorach minashim blessed more then the other women? To understand this, we have to understand the family that Yael was from. Yael was from the Kenim, whom we explained yesterday were descendant of Yitro. So on one hand, they are friends with Am Israel. But as we saw in Perek 4, this Keni- Chever- is also buddies with Canaan. So you have someone here with dual loyalties he is trying to be neutral between both sides. To the extent that Sisera feels comfortable running to the Kenis house because he knows he will be looked out for,

R Moshe Lichtenstein (In tzir vtzon, pages 37-39), explains that this was not just the attitude of Chever the Keni, but also of his ancestorYitro. Yitro too has the attitude of not wanting to get too involved with other societies. He lives as a recluse in the desert in midyan, and he is happy to give advise to Moshe about setting up a new judicial system, but when Moshe asks him to stay, telling him that he could be the eyes and ears for Am Israel as they go into Israel, Yitro leaves and goes back home to midyan. Yitro and his descendants want to stay neutral, like Switzerland in WW2. Ask the chanichim: Is this good or bad? Maybe its good because you dont get involved in wars, but bad, because you dont stand up to evil! (you can bring up Jews getting involved in protesting Darfur). Is it worse to be neutral is someone is doing something wrong or evil and you dont speak up?? (Theres a midrash (Shemot Meam Loez 1:9) that Yitro was one of Pharoahs 3 advisors and was asked whether the Jewish boys should be thrown into the sea, and Yitro ran away to not answer it. Didnt say yes, but didnt face off against evil. Doesnt stand up for what he believes in).

So too, his descendants the kenim, live in Israel but are neutral. Even though Sisera is a war criminal they will keep the peace with him, they dont want to get involved. Parallel to the rest of shoftim leadership ppl dont want to step up to be leaders!! But YAEL stands up against her whole family philosophy and gets involved!! She takes action and kills Sisera who is evil, even though her family philosophy is to not get involved; Yael chooses her destiny and sides with the good side. Discuss with the chanichim: What positive leadership traits can we take from Yaels story

    1. Yael Part #2: For a more advanced group you could discuss Yaels motives and methods here. A lot of mepharshim, especially modern scholars note the use of sexual imagery in this scene- implying that perhaps Yael, a married woman, slept with Sisera in order to incapacitate him (and win his trust) and then killed him. This can be compared to the story of Yehuda and Tamar, Lot and his daughters, and even Rut and Boaz in the Goren (though nothing ends up happens in that story), where women seduce someone in order to achive their goals. Discuss with the chanichim: What do you think about Yaels actions now? When do the means justify the ends? Is it right to ever break your moral and ethical code in order to achieve a Greater Goal killing Sisera? This is something people in the resistance in WW2 and in the years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel with the fights between the Jews and British in Israel dealt with all the time. Can we ever justify methods like Yaels? When and why or why not? Does this change your impression of Yael?

Why sing Shirah now?

Why does Devorah sing shirah here, and nowhere else in Shoftim do they sing shirah after a victory? What was so important about this victory?

1. The enormous miracles G-d performed, both in how the ragtag Am Israel army was able to defeat the mighty and well armed iron chariot Cananites in the north, and in perhaps, an open miracle, where rain and floodstorms caused the Nachal Kidron in the valley to fill up with water and sweep away the entire Sisera army. This is definitely a cause for Shirah just in the crucial nature of internalizing it into our lives.

2. The land being fought over and then won by Devorah was extremely significant and more significant then any other battles, as here Devorah, Barak were able to finally conquer and take down the mighty Cananite army and claim the northern terriroty of Am Israel also known as Emek Izrael. After the Devorah stories, the battle ends with the entire Emek Izrael in Jewish hands.

In the words of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag: YEHOSHUA IN CONTRAST TO DEVORAH

Even though Yehoshua conquered the entire land, his conquest was far from complete. The simplest proof is the psukim immediately following this "shira": "And Yehoshua had become old, and G-d said to him, you have grown old, but there is MUCHMORELAND which needs to be conquered" (See Yehoshua 13:1-5. See also 18:1-3,23:1-16). Even though the tribes of Yehuda and Yosef were successful in their conquest, the remaining tribes who were to settle in Eretz Canaan (see Yehoshua 18:1-6) had not captured their respective areas.

The primary area not conquered at that time centered around EMEK YIZRAEL (the JezreelValley), which sat on the major trade route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was not until the time of Devorah that the area was finally conquered, through the joint effort of the surrounding tribes. In the war of Barak and Devorah in Emek Yizrael, Israel's enemies in the north were defeated, thus geographically uniting the twelve tribes. This is why Devorah sings shira.

This explains the importance of SHIRAT DEVORAH.

Devorah wanted to continue what Yehoshua did and finish up conquering the rest of Israel, so she completes the conquest of the Cananites and they disappear from Tanach, until the last war with Shaul and the Plishtim.

Why sing Shirah in general?

1 You can quote various sources about the importance of saying Hallel and thanking Hashem when He saves us.

  • Gemara Pesachim 117a: The prophets created hallel and ordained that when suffering comes to the people, when they are redeemed, they say it on their redemption.

  • Sanhendrin 94a: Hashem wanted to make Chizkiyahu Moshiach, but he didnt say Hallel so Hashem did not.

2. Basic Hakarat Hatov say thank you when someone helps you kal vechomer when it is something huge (here, either kivush of the north! Or a great miracle at Nachal Kidron!) You can tie it into the issue of saying Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut and on Yom Yerushalayim, thanking Hashem for the great victories of 1948 and 1967. There is also the idea of saying hallel on the anniversary of a day when Hashem did a great miracle for you personally (someone was in an accident, or in a war).

3. Ask the chanichim: When did they ever experience something big that they wanted to say Hallel on, or pass on Hakarat Tov in a big way. Why did they feel it necessary to express those emotions tangibly?

Conclusion: In her Shirah, Devorah touches upon various themes; she thanks Hashem for His miraculous help in Nachal Kishon, she praises the tribes who came to fight and gives mussar to those who didnt (showing the disunity of the tribes!), and talks about the bravery of Yael vs the insensitivity of Em Sisera. We also discussed why Devorah sings shirah here- either because of the miracle in the Nachal, or because Am Israel finally conquered the north of Israel Emek Izrael.

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Machal Shiur #8: Perek 5:

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