The Book of Judges narrates the inner, spiritual history of Israel from after the death of Joshua until the very threshold of the establishment of the kingship by the prophet Samuel - a span of some four hundred years, in which the nation was largely without a single, unifying leader except at times when outstanding "Judges" - spiritual leaders of exceptional stature - arose to save them from their plight in face of their enemies. According to our rabbis, the Book of Judges was written by Samuel on the basis of "kabbalah" - i.e. the prophetic tradition handed down from generation to generation until it came to his teacher, Eli the High Priest (Bava Basra 14b; see RaDaK on Judges 1:21). The entire book can be seen as an intimate study of the developing moral sickness of the Israelites in their land that necessitated the establishment of the messianic kingship by Samuel.


The principle that "there is no before and after in the Torah" was discussed in the Study Notes on Joshua 23-24. We need this principle now in order to resolve possible confusion caused by the "time-line" of Judges chs 1-2, which zig-zags quite sharply back and forth. Chapter 1 verse 1 of Judges seems to pick up the historical narrative where the book of Joshua left off, but as it begins to describe the tribe of Judah's conquest of their territories, the narrative seamlessly slips back to events that apparently took place in Joshua's lifetime and were already described in the book of Joshua - the conquest of Hebron and that of Dvir by Osniel ben Knaz.(see Joshua chapter 15).

Similarly, Chapter 2 of Judges opens with the appearance of God's messenger from Gilgal to reprove the people, which would seem to have taken place after Joshua's death. Whether or not it did, the text of Ch. 2 then interjects with the retelling of Joshua's death and burial (Ch 2 vv. 6-10) even though the whole book of Judges 1:1 has already started AFTER Joshua's death. (Likewise Numbers 1:1 starts in the SECOND month of the second year after the Exodus, while a later chapter, Numbers 9:1 tells what happened in the FIRST month of the second year!) As stated in the last installment, it is not necessarily the temporal contiguity of events that determines their juxtaposition in the text, but rather their thematic interconnection. Thus we shall find that the two striking episodes described at the end of the book of Judges (ch's 17-21) - Michah's idol and the Concubine of Giv'on - actually occurred in the very beginning of the period of the Judges.

"WHO WILL GO UP FOR US" (Judges 1:1)

Although it appears that the people consulted the Urim VeTumim of the High Priest in order to ask which TRIBE should "go up" first against the Canaanites, our rabbis taught that God's answer - "Yehuda shall go up" (ch 1 v 2) specifically referred to OSNIEL BEN KNAZ, the hero of the capture of Dvir, whose name was in fact "Yehuda brother of Shimon". He was called OSNIEL because it contains the letters of the Hebrew word ANISA, "You have answered" - because God answered his prayers (see Temura 16a).

Osniel ben Knaz (also called YAABETZ see Chronicles 1, 2:55) was the second Judge of Israel after Joshua, and the account of his capture of KIRYAT SEFER-DVIR refers allegorically to his conquest of the Torah (particularly those portions that were forgotten after the death of Moses.)


A few hints of the profound allegory that underlies the book of Judges are contained in SEFER HALIKUTIM of the ARI (R. Itzhak Luria, outstanding 16 th century kabbalist). Following the account of the capture of Dvir, we are told that "the children of KAYNI, Moses' father in law (=Jethro) went up from the city of dates (= Jericho ) to be with the children of Judah in the wilderness of Judah ." (1:16).

Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the fat, lush territory around Jericho was given to Jethro's offspring (who as converts did not have a share in the land) but only temporarily, as it would later be given in "compensation" to the Tribe in whose territory the Temple was to be built (Benjamin) as the place of the Temple would no longer be theirs but would belong to all Israel. However, Jethro's offspring, the KAYNITES, had more sense than to attach themselves to a temporary material plot of land. Instead, since they lived in tents anyway, they went to the wilderness of Judah - a territory with no material benefits - in order to learn Torah from YAABETZ=OSNIEL BEN KNAZ and thereby gain an eternal spiritual acquisition. The KAYNITES were later adduced by Jeremiah as the prime exemplar of the righteous convert who chooses the Torah itself as his inheritance (Jer. Ch 35).

The KAYNITES will reappear in our narrative in Judges ch 4 where Yael wife of HEVER HA-KAYNI distinguished herself by killing Sisera. In chapter 4 it says that "Hever HaKayni SEPARATED himself from Kayin (=Adam's son)" (Judges 4:11). They also appear in Samuel, when Saul asks them to move away from the Amalekites, where they were then encamped, in order to facilitate his attack.

ARI explains that Jethro was from the root of Kayin (GEVUROT, severe judgment) and Hever was from the seed of Jethro. This is why he is called HA-KAYNI from the root Kayin. Kayin was a mixture of good and evil, and in Jethro the "food" was sifted out from the "waste" and thereby rectified. This was when the good was SEPARATED from the evil, as alluded to in the above-quoted verse. The evil descended into the husks (Amalek, Goliath) while the good was left in Jethro. KEYNI succeeded in bringing the husk "inside", into the realm of the holy, and thus, "In the place where penitents stand, even complete Tzaddikim cannot stand", because, as ARI explains, the penitents bring the husk inside and sweeten it.

Within the context of these notes it is impossible to condense the ARI's elaborate teachings about the various incarnations alluded to in these stories of RAHAV, YAEL and ELI (the last two have the same Hebrew letters), KAYIN, YISRO (Jethro) and others. I am mentioning them only to underline how profoundly deep are these chapters of NaCh that we have the privilege of studying.


The above secrets relating to these souls are revealed in an extensive Drush of ARI relating to the entire first section of Judges and centering in particular on Deborah (ch's 4-5).

In the course of this Drush ARI reveals that the town of Beit El mentioned in our present text, Judges 1:23 (and is first mentioned in Genesis 12:8 as having been visited by Abraham and later, in Genesis 28:19, as the site of Jacob's dream of the Ladder) alludes to the Partzuf of Leah in the world of Beriyah, while Luz - the "name of the town before" - alludes to the Partzuf of Leah in the world of Atzilut. (Lamed Zayin = 37 = gematria of Leah). In the Form of Man, this corresponds to the place of the knot of the strap (RETZU'AH) of the Tefilin of the Head. As explained in Shulchan Aruch (Code of Torah Law) the knot must be placed at the bottom of the skull (OREF), just above where the neck (TZAVAR) begins. According to our rabbis, it is from this bone that the body of man will develop in time to come, at the time of the resurrection, and this bone is called LUZ. (Many Jews know the tradition that this bone is nourished only by the food we eat at the MELAVEH MALKA feast accompanying out the departing Shabbat each week.)

ARI's introductions may open a tiny chink in the veil to help us appreciate the awesome depths of the very beautiful Midrashim about Luz brought in the "revealed" Torah as opposed to the esoteric Torah of ARI. Thus Rashi (on v. 24) tells us that the only way into this mysterious city of Luz was through a cave, at the entrance to which stood a LUZ (=almond? nut?) tree. (Was there a hidden door in the tree?) The man who showed the Israelites how to get in did not even say a word. He merely gestured with his finger. Further details of the story are given in Sota 46b, where we learn that in return for this great favor, the Israelites spared the man, who went off to found a city likewise named Luz in the Land of the Hitim (Asia Minor) that became prosperous from the Techeiles (blue die) industry, survived even the ravages of Sennacheriv and Nebuchadnezzar, and which even the Angel of Death was not authorized to enter. When the elders of the city, after living on and on, reached the limits of knowledge, they would go outside the city walls and die. All this was the man's reward for having ACCOMPANIED the Israelites and pointing them in the right direction (just as we accompany out the Shabbat). This Midrash suggests that the mystery of Luz is bound up with the mystery of drawing the timeless world to come (Leah in Atzilus) down towards this world (which derives from Beriyah.


English translations of the Bible say that an ANGEL of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim (Judges 2:1). What is an ANGEL? Our rabbis taught that this "angel" was none other than Pinchas the Priest, of whom the rabbis said that "when holy spirit would rest upon him, his face would burn like fiery torches" (Midrash Tanchumah).

Those who imagine angels as radiant winged beings from other realms may have been looking at medieval artists' reconstructions of events that are based on complete ignorance of the Hebrew language and the true meaning of the Bible. The Hebrew world MAL'ACH, which is frequently translated as "angel", simply means an AGENT or MESSENGER. Indeed this exactly is the meaning of the ancient Greek word ANGELOS from which our world ANGEL derives.

A MAL'ACH from God is definitely not an ordinary, animalistic human being that eats and drinks like a glutton and is three quarters asleep most of the time. This does not mean that God may not at times choose outstanding Tzaddikim who have completely transcended the physical to be His MAL'ACHIM, as in the case of Moses, who is referred to both in the Chumash and in Psalms as a MALACH.


The message of the MALACH who came up "from GILGAL" (=reincarnation, recycling) to BOCHIM ("the weepers") gives the very essence of the moral of the Book of Judges as a whole: The cyclical problem with which Judges deals is that the Israelites failed to drive out all of the Canaanites, instead permitting them to continue to dwell among them. This alone and in itself was not the fatal flaw. The flaw was that as a result, the Israelites MIXED WITH and LEARNED FROM the Canaanites, and adopted the religions and idolatrous practices of the nations around them.

Chapter 2 suddenly interjects the death and burial of Joshua into the reproof that traces the failure of the Children of Israel to live up to God's Covenant (vv. 6-10). We read once again, as already told at the end of Joshua, that Joshua was buried in TIMNATH CHERES to the north of HAR GO'ASH. TIMNATH CHERES means "picture of the sun" - for an image of the sun was placed over Joshua's grave (see Rashi on v. 9). This in itself does not have anything to do with idolatry: the allusion to the sun was fitting since it was Joshua who had stopped the sun in its tracks at Giv'on - Joshua TRANSCENDED NATURE. HAR GO'ASH is the VOLCANO. The rabbis taught that the people failed to eulogize Joshua properly after his death, and as a result God almost destroyed them all under a flood of lava (Rashi on Joshua 30. We note that our texts never refer to thirty days of mourning for Joshua as they do in the case of Moses, Jacob, etc. This is presumably the textual hint that Joshua was not properly eulogized.)

In other words, after Joshua's final address to the people in Shechem (Joshua ch. 24), they all went home to attend to their own vineyards and fig trees without "eulogizing Joshua" i.e. without seeking to INTERNALIZE the lessons that Joshua had imbibed from HIS teacher, Moses (who WAS eulogized for thirty days). This rupture in the tradition is the key to the subsequent tragic history of the Israelites in the Land. They did not draw close to and internalize the messages of their spiritual leaders except when they were direly threatened by their enemies, whereas they should have continued to keep their departed leaders' Torah near to their hearts all the time. (Perhaps this indicates that attaining the true Chassidic relationship between Chassid and Tzaddik would be the remedy and thus one of the main keys to our future redemption???)

Chapter 2 verse 13 tells us that "they abandoned HaShem and served the Baal and the Ashtoroth". Since these terms for idolatrous deities will recur frequently in our texts, it is worth noting that RaDaK (ad loc.) comments that Baal is a generic term for graven images and idols, "since they are like a LORD (Adon = Baal) to those that serve them". (Today also, we see that much of the world is under the spell of the images daily spun by the communications media, which are the latter-day purveyors of idolatry.) While ASHTAROTH are literally images of female sheep, they also allude to the idolatry of wealth (the Hebrew letters of the word OSHER, "wealth" are contained in the name ASHTAROTH.)



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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