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Devorah-Prophetess and Judge Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg   

DevorahTranscribed and unedited: Basic story, if you don’t remember it look it over. It’s Torah for B’shalach  because of the song, and the story begins on page 434 even though the Haftorah leaves out the introductory part of the story which is the usual thing, where the Jews sinned and they were handed over to a mighty and powerful king, etc. But the story itself begins with Devorah.  (pg. 434)


Now we are going to do something we haven’t done yet with Otne’el, Shamgar or Eyhud. We are going to work our way backward and put a lot of things into perspective. You are all familiar with the basic story. What’s missing? What would you like to know that’s not there?

A: How did she become a judge?

R: Good, what else? What do you mean when you say how did she become a judge? Was there an official announcement by God?

A: The first time it says everybody accepted her, what was it that she did that got everybody to except her?

R: Right, and you know that this will be an unusual story, getting everybody to agree to come to her. How do we know that?

A: Women

R: Right, she’s a woman. So there is going to be a little bit involved to get everyone to come to her. What are some of the other questions that you would want to know? If you were reading a story – it’s a lousy story in the beginning – at least it becomes interesting. There are important parts of the story that are missing. What else?

A: More about Barak

R: Right. We would like to know more about Barak. Who was Barak? Was he a general of the army? How come he had to call the army together, how come she couldn’t call the army together? How come if he was able to call the army together that means that he was probably a general, if he was probably a general how come he wasn’t summoning the army on his own and figuring out strategies or at least some type of gorilla warfare to save the Jews from Yaven? What was he waiting for? What else?

A: Where did she come from?

R: Where did she come from – meaning? Why do you want to know, because certain questions you don’t ask… Why do you care about the human detail – does it affect her? Why does it affect her? No more – if you remember, I told you that every tribe had one shofet. Alright, you want to know some personal information about her. Ok.  How many years did she judge? Pg 444. Now, if you have your notes from the previous shoftim we’ve done Otne’el, Eyhud, and Shamgard. You will see that there is a significant difference between the way it closes the story of Devorah and the way it closes the story of Ehud and Otneal. You see the difference? (You have your notes?) So there you have at the end of the story of Otne’el, on pg. 295, V’Tishkot Ha’aretz Arba’im Shana.

A: ???

R: Same thing as it says for the other ones, right.  V’Tishkot Ha’aretz Arba’im Shana Vamet Otne’el Ben Kanaz. Otne’el ben Kanaz died. What does that tell you if it says that the land was quiet for 40 years and then Otne’el died? That one of the reasons it was quiet was that he was successful while he was alive. The same thing with Eyhud. Immediately after Eyhud’s death it says that it was quiet, V’Eyhud Met, and Eyhud died, and then they were in trouble again. That’s the beginning of chapter 4. But Devorah’s ignored. She sings her song and then really we don’t deal with her anymore. So her ending is a little bit different.

What’s one of the first things the pasuk tells us about Devorah?  Devorah Isha Niviah, ok, what does Nevuah mean?

A: Prophetess

R: Ok, what do you imagine that means? She put up a sign that I have a connection with God?  What does it tell you about Devorah?

A: She’s established a reputation.

R: So you are assuming that she already had an established reputation as a neviah. What kind of prophecies had she given? Remember, there are many, many prophets. But there is a prophet as Joan said who is simply a prophet in terms of having absolute or almost absolute clarity in that person’s relationship with God. Meaning, that when God sends them a message, they understand the message clearly, and they know that the message comes from God. That is prophecy. You have to reach an incredible level to achieve that. A person may believe that she or he has absolute clarity – it’s not. A person may be convinced that it is a message from God – it’s not. But we all have our questions in things that happen to us, in our intuitions, in our dreams, in everything around us, we all have to ask ourselves all the time if this is the hand of God or just something that is happening to me. We are not prophets so we do not understand. A navi or naviah would understand automatically each thing, each intuition, if it was received in the spirit of prophecy. But when it tells you that she is a niviah, it is telling you that it is important to know that she is a niviah for the story. Now we could say that she was a naviah because of her prophecy, she does prophecies in the song, at the end of the story, but I don’t think that is what the pasuk means. The reason that I don’t believe that is what the pasuk means is because it wouldn’t have needed to introduce the story by saying that she is a niviah if you are going to end the story by saying that she sings all of these prophecies. For example, Chana had many prophecies in her song after the birth of Shmuel, but it never says V’chana Isha Niviah. You understand that she was a niviah from the fact that there are prophecies in her shirah. So how do you picture Devorah Isha Niviah? Does it mean that she had a shingle on her door that she was a niviah?


R: That is what I am saying. If it says Isha Niviah then you know that her being a niviah played a role in whatever this story is. So in human terms, how do you picture her being a niviah?

A: You know that people listened to her because she judged Israel rather then –

R: I’m not asking about her being a judge – I’m not trying to give you a hard time, I want you to feel the story. If you read a novel, read Robert Coles, what is it – the call of stories. And then you understand that when you read a story you are supposed to get into the story. It changes you, it affects you, it gives you new perspectives. This is God writing for you. Or actually, this is Shmuel Hanavi writing a story for you. Now if I could find you a handwritten letter from Samuel the prophet would you read it carefully, would you freak out? This is Shmuel Hanavi, he is wrotting, I got to figure out what he is saying! Well, that’s what it is, and God told him to write these words. So that means that God felt that it was important for you to know that she was a niviah. Why did God feel  that it was important for you to know that Devorah was an Isha Niviah? What is it telling you? First of all, just picture a woman there in that society. By the way, in this society, what do they feel about woman? What were they angry about at Pilegesh V’Givah? Do you remember the story the concubine of Giva? Do you remember the way this man treated his concubine? First of all, the idea of a concubine is bad because there is no sense of responsibility or commitment in the relationship. That’s number one. Number two, he has to push people to get upset, and they just want to punish the city and then Binyamin overreacts, but it’s not over the rape per say, correct? Look at this: Perek Heh, Pasuk Lamud, look at the way they would describe what Sisra would do with woman, and Sisra’s army. What was their approach to woman? Two damsels to every man. He would go into battle, take a woman, grab her by her hair and take her into the tent, sometimes two woman. But, whatever the actuall story is, it’s not the kind of society in which you would expect to find a woman leading it. You know there is a story in the Talmud about a city run by woman. It’s an incredible story. But this is obviously not that kind of society. That’s where wonder woman comes from, it’s a gemarah in talmud. “Vander Voman”, no…… but it does have a story of these superhuman woman who defeated Alexander the Great in battle. See what happens when you don’t know gemarah….. Ok, so just picture it in your minds, what do you picture when you hear that this woman was a niviah? What kind of prophecies does she do? Are they prophecies that affect the destiny of the Jewish people? Yes or no. No, it doesn’t say them – they don’t. Now usually, whats the role of a niviah? Yirmiahu, what was Yirmiahu’s role?

A:  ?????

R: The role of a navi – no, that is a common misconception. Again, the prophecy is not the message, the prophecy is the clarity of the communication that the individual has with God. That’s what you’ve got to understand. At times a navi has a message to give, and at times that message is a prediction of the future. The way the navi establishes his credentials is through predicting the future once or twice, depending on wether you hold by the Rambam or the Ramban. After he establishes his credentials he does not go around predicting the future. He goes and instructs the people. But there is such absolute clarity and consistency to his behavior and to his words that people know that his message comes from God. That’s the whole point. And then, after the navi has established hism or in our case her credentials, they speak to the people. And what is it that she was speaking to the people about? Any idea? So what do you imagine? What would she be doing, what did it say in the pasukim before, why were they in trouble? Because they were doing evil again. So what would her prophecies have been? Stop it! So she is telling people to do teshuva. It’s probably what she is doing. So you have heard that once or twice she predicted the future. People found out that she was right, she had an established reputation as a niviah, so she begins to go around and she speaks to people about doing teshuva. Now remember, in order to become a navi, it’s not that you are working in the field all day, and you have to actually work very hard at becoming a navi. That’s what the book Mesilat Yesharim is about. It’s an instruction manule as to how to become a navi. So in order for her to have the time to become a prophetese she had to have money. And that is why she sat under Tomer Devorah, the palm tree of Devorah. If you remember, Rashi said that she was a wealthy woman. Because she was a wealthy woman, she had the opportunity to become a niviah, to meditate, to daven, to learn, and things like that. Ok, so now what does she do? She comes home one day and she says ‘honey, I have a message for you from God’. Do you think that’s what happened? Do some creative imagining, what do you think happened? She went to the leaders of the community and she said, she came with a placard ‘the world will end in thirty days’?

A: She said ‘do that and this is going to happen.’

R: Ok, and where did she do this?

A: Walking down the streets.

R: She saw Bob Katz and she said ‘Bob, I have a message for you from the almighty God’

A: If you do that, this is going to happen to you.

R: And then it happened to you, and you run and run and you tell everyone ‘wow, that woman Devorah is great!’   

A: No, you say ‘wow, that’s really weird’, and then she does it to somebody else…

R: Two people, ok.

A: Maybe ten.

R: Ok, but two is enough to establish her as a niviah. So let’s say she goes to one or two individuals, its not enough to establish her a s a niviah, it has to be something to the community. So she first had to have been able to get the community to listen to her because no one would trust her. Sorry, but she has to prove herself to the Jewish people. So she has to go to the authorities and she has to tell the authorities: ‘tomorrow its going to rain over there, and not over there, and she has to do something to prove herself as a niviah once or twice that something will happen, something that is not expected to happen. Its unusual and it happens. Ok. In order to get the people to listen to her what does she have to do? Just try and picture that kind of society. A woman walks in and says ‘I have a prophecy for you.’ What are they going to do to that woman? They are going to pick her up and throw her out. What happened to Chanah? She davens one time, she moves her lips and doesn’t make a sound when she is davening, and what does Eli start doing? He starts yelling at her. What would have happened if Chana had walked in to Eli and started prophesying? What would he have done? Either a coronary, or, just to give you an interesting tidbit of information, you know who Eli was in terms of our story? You ready to blow your minds? Turn to the second page, number twelve. Yakov Rabeini is a very kabbalistic midrash.

‘Eli, Hu Gilgul Yael Eishet Chever Hakeini.’ Eli is the reincarnation of Yael. Look at the letters, eyin, lamud, yud. ‘Sheratza La’a lot B’madreigot Eish.’ She wanted to reach, or serve God on the level that men had the opportunity to. ‘V’zeh,’ and this is what it means in the verse when it says: ‘Nashim B’ohel Tevarech.’ That she is more blessed then the woman in the tent, ‘Shesimsha B’ohel Shiloh Bimkom Kohen.’ She served as a kohen in the tabernacle in Shiloh. ‘_____ Gilgul Eli Hakohen.’ In the reincarnation as Eli Hakohen. Just an interesting tidbit. Just try to imagine what this person had to do in order to get people to listen to her. Can you picture this? What are people going to say about her? She’s masculine, she’s pushy…

A: ?????

R: Then it wouldn’t call her a niviah. Niviah means that she has established credentials as a navi.

A: But that’s probably how it started, people came to her for advice…

R: I don’t think so. Not to be a navi. I think that’s an American view of things. Because that’s what we do, you find someone who has good intuition. I think on the second part, that part about her being a shofet, you are accurate. But a navi is a much different role. I think you are right, people did go to a navi if they had a strange dream and they wanted it interpretated. It was certainly a lot less expensive then going to a therapist for years. And the navi, by virtue of his or her own clarity of transmission would have a much clearer reading and understanding of whatever it was that you had intuited or you had understood in your dream. But in order to go to someone like that, you either went to someone who is very very learned, so that their intuition had been developed and nurtured through their learning, or you went to someone who had the established reputation of being a navi. We were very very sensitive about false prophets because the torah is very strict about it. Be careful, Be careful, Be careful. And that’s why you have an established system of how someone becomes a navi. We will get to that part about people starting to come to her for advice. By the way, it doesn’t say that people came to her as a niviah, right? What does it say? It says that she was, but people came ‘L’mishpat.’ So it’s interesting that they weren’t coming to her as a niviah. Obviously the pasuk is sending you a message. Because the truth is, or this may be my own psychological makeup, but if lets say there was a woman there who had, and somehow she had assumed this position of authourity, let’s say as rosh yeshiva. So rosh yeshiva serves many functions. One is it teaches you how to learn. Another function that the rosh yeshiva serves is your stories of hashkafa, your philosophy and before you make a major life decision you discuss it with your rosh yeshiva to get the perspective of someone who is steeped in learning. And the third is someone who has very keen insight into your soul. This woman becomes a rosh yeshiva. I know that as the rabbi of Lincoln Square I would have a lot of difficulty relating to that. I would either find a new yeshiva or be very embarrassed, very uncomfortable, or condescending, or patronizing, but I wouldn’t be myself. And then I am going to have to go to this woman rosh yeshiva as a new thing. The last thing that I would go for is mishpat. The first thing I would go for is a more woman type of thing, is the intuition type of thing. I would have, you know, with the established roles in my mind of what I would expect from a woman. So if I had Devorah there – I would be uncomfortable with the idea of having Devorah. And  I am assuming that, unless this is a myth, and it probably is, that a 20th century American would be more comftorable with it then someone living in those times. But, assuming that having a woman there would be very uncomfortable and if I had to go to her for anything, I’ll go to her for niviah, because, ok, God chose to speak through this person. Going for mishpat, judgment, means I’m treating her like my rabbi. That is much more difficult.

A: No, but these people who are already committing evil, which means that its not because they didn’t know what God wanted, they didn’t care what God wanted, they were doing just the opposite. So if the niviut comes from God, they don’t want to go to her for that, because they already know that they are not behaving. But to go to her for judgment is something more secular more…

R: Your point is a great point.  On the one hand, it doesn’t seem consistent to reject God, go and serve idols, and then go to this woman and search her out as a prophetess, because you are not going to listen to what she has to say anyway. It’s a great point, but I don’t know if it is true in terms of what these people did. Because, if you read through Sefer Melachim you find that Achav, who was one of the worst idol worshipping kings, would consult with a navi before doing something.

A: One of his nivi’im or one of Gods nivi’im?

R: Originally, one of Gods. And then when he started getting yelled at every time, but eventually he went back. That’s the famous story with Michiyahu, when he tells him that the spirit of Navot has come to haunt you… But you find it all of the time, they listen to a navi. Rachavam listened to Hoshea, the sedond Rechavam, not the first Rechavam. Rechavam was a very tough cookie, but there were certain – Yeravam Ben Nadav! Yeravam Ben Nadav, in the same conversation in which he rejects God, Acknowledges the power of a navi.  Remember when his hand withered?
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