The opening verses of our text paint a picture that is depressingly familiar to the modern Israeli. The generation that witnessed the heroic days of the miraculous conquest of the Land had passed, and a new generation arose that had not seen God's great work and they rebelled against Him (see Rashi on verse 1). Instead of enjoying peace and prosperity in the Land pursuing the Torah, they were forced to learn the art of warfare, just as in contemporary Israel , where the very flower of the country's youth are sacrificed on the altar of war.

Significantly the locations in the Promised Land over which the Israelites lost their hold as told in our present text (v. 3) correspond exactly to those that are the sorest trial for Israel until today. The "five officers of the Philistines" ruled over the "big five" Philistine cities, Ashdod , Gaza , Gath , Ashkelon and Ekron in the Mediterranean coastal region. The Sidonians and Hivites were dwelling in present-day Lebanon , southern Syria and the Golan Heights .

Were it not for the hostility of the Arab population to the Jews, it is very likely that much of today's secular Israeli population would have intermarried with the surrounding peoples just as the Israelites did after the death of Joshua (v. 6). Verse 7 adds a new element to the idolatry which the ancient Israelites adopted from their neighbors: the ASHEROT (not to be confused with the ASH-T-EROT in Judges ch 3). The ASHERA is a tree worshiped as a god: tree veneration is mentioned in the Torah (Deut. 16:21) as one of the idolatries practiced by the Canaanites. The prohibition of anything that comes from an Ashera tree recurs throughout the Shas and Poskim (Talmud and Codifiers). Significantly, the Kabbalah sees all worlds, revealed and concealed, as parts of the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Sefirot, yet the sages typify any kind of theology that splits off divine powers from one another as "uprooting saplings" (Chagiga 14b).


Kushan Rishathayim king of Mesopotamia, whom God sent to try Israel (v. 8), was an ideological as well as a physical enemy. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105b) states that this was none other than Bilaam-Laban (RISHATHAYIM means a DOUBLE wickedness) - i.e. the treacherous spirit of Laban the Aramean and his sorcerer offspring Bilaam reared its head and ruled again in the world. That Osniel ben Knaz had the power to overcome this attests to his great power. It is said that Osniel noted that God had said to Moses "I have surely seen (RA'OH RA-EESEE, the verb is doubled) the misery of My people" (Ex. 3:7). Osniel learned out from the doubling of the verb that God had already seen that the people would sin with the Golden Calf, yet He still had compassion on them. Osniel said, "Whether they are worthy or guilty, He is obliged to save them" (Rashi on v. 10). Let us turn this into our prayer today for contemporary Israel !


After the death of Osniel, the people's sins caused Eglon king of Moab to gain ascendancy. Just as the Arameans of Kushan Rishathayim were relatives of the Israelites - being from the family of Abraham's brother Nachor - so too were the Moabites, who were descended from Abraham's nephew Lot , through his incestuous relation with his oldest daughter. Moab corresponds to the southern region of present-day Jordan east of the "Dead" Sea.

The capture by Moses of the territories of the Emorites east of the Jordan (who had previously taken over parts of Moab ) had driven a wedge between Moab and her sister nation to the north, Ammon (= Amman , capital of Jordan ), severely weakening Moab . Eglon took advantage of the moral deterioration of the Israelites to reassert Moabite sovereignty over the territories of Reuven, Gad and Menasheh east of the Jordan , thereby joining up with Ammon again and also with Israel 's implacable enemy Amalek (who dwelled in the wilderness areas south east and south west of the "Dead" Sea). Eglon even conquered Jericho , the "lock" of the Holy Land .

Given the choice of going right or left by Abraham, Lot had opted to go to the left (Genesis 13:9 ff). It is therefore significant that Ehud ben Gera used a "sinister" ploy to kill Eglon through the power of his LEFT HAND. Although from the tribe of Benjamin (BIN-YAMIN, "son of the RIGHT"), Ehud, like many other members of his tribe was LEFT-HANDED (cf. Judges 20:16. Rabbi Nachman, who discusses left-handedness in a number of places, notes that Benjamin corresponds to the Tefilin, and the Tefilin of the arm are worn on the LEFT arm - Likutey Moharan II, 77; see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom p. 293).

The small "sword that had two mouths" (v. 16) which Ehud made and hid on his right thigh under his clothes for surprise use against Eglon with his LEFT hand was none other than the Torah, which is called "a sword of mouths" (Psalm 149) because those who engage in its study eat in this world and in the world to come (Tanchuma).


Our rabbis note that when Ehud told Eglon "I have the word of God for you" (Judges 3:20), Eglon arose from his throne out of respect. "Said the Holy One, blessed be He, 'You accorded Me honor and rose from your throne for the sake of My glory. By your life, I will raise up a descendant from you whom I shall seat upon My throne, as it is said, And Solomon sat upon the throne of God as king'" (Ruth Rabbah 2:9). Eglon had two daughters: While Orpah was the mother of Goliath, Ruth became one of the most celebrated converts of all time and was the great grandmother of King David, father of Solomon.

It is noteworthy that in this roundabout way Ruth's conversion came about through Ehud, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, from which came Saul, the first king of Israel . Saul persecuted David, who was said to be not even Jewish since the Torah explicitly forbids a Moabite to enter the Assembly (Deut. 23:4). Only when the sages of the generation revived Samuel's Midrash that this does not apply to a MoabitESS was David accepted. Evidently left-handed, roundabout courses of events are part of the coming of Mashiach!!!

Just as Benjamin contributed Ehud ben Gera to the illustrious history of Israel's judges, so every one of the tribes of Israel contributed at least one judge, including Levi (Eli and Samuel), with the sole exception of Shimon, whose history of rebellion under Zimri ben Saloo in the time of Moses precluded the possibility of their producing a judge.


A certain "confusion" between right-handedness and left-handedness continues in Chapter 4: even Rabbi Chaim Vital, who wrote down the teachings of the ARI, states that he cannot remember if his master said that Yavin king of Canaan who ruled in Hatzor (Judges 4:2) was from the LEFT side, Imma-Binah (Yavin, "he will understand") or from the RIGHT side, Abba-Chochmah (YaVIN=72=Chochmah; see Sefer HaLikutim, Shoftim). In any event, ARI reveals that the root of KAYIN (Adam's first son), which derives from the GEVUROT of BINAH, descended into the unholy realm of the husks to manifest as the unholy DA'AS ("knowledge").

For this reason, Yavin's general was called SISERA: The two middle letters of his name are Samach (60)-Reish (200) = 260 = 26 x 10 = i.e. ten Havayot (Each HaVaYaH is one Tetragrammaton, in gematria = 26; HaVaYaH is Da'at, here spreading through all ten Sefirot). The remaining letters of SISERA are Samach (60), Yud (10) Aleph (1) making a total of 71, which is the sum of MaH (the "Milui" - filling of the letters -- of HaVaYaH, corresponding to Zeir Anpin = 45) plus Kaf-Vav (26=HaVaYaH). ARI states that Sisera alludes to the mystery of Daas of Zeir Anpin on the side of the Kelipot-husks (ibid).

The Midrash attributes enormous military resources to Sisera. Besides the 900 chariots of iron mentioned in our text (v. 13), "he brought 40,000 commanding officers each of whom had one hundred thousand men. Sisera was thirty years old and conquered the whole world. There was not a city whose wall he did not cause to fall through his roar. Even a wild animal that he roared at in the field would stand unable to move from its place. When he went to bathe in the River Kishon, he would come out of the water with his beard full of enough fish to feed many, many people." (Yalkut). All of this seems to be alluding allegorically to what the ARI expresses Kabbalistically through the use of Gematrias.

Given that, as ARI explains, this was on one level a war of spirit and ideology, it is interesting to note that the war actually took place in areas of Israel that many today find to be the most spiritual - the lower and upper Galilee . Yavin's Hatzor had been destroyed together with its king, also called Yavin, in the time of Joshua (ch. 11). Now, however, the new Yavin reasserted the Canaanite power, threatening the entire north and center of the Land: the territories of Ephraim, Zevulun and Naftali. With all the other tribes now settled in their respective inheritances, they were so preoccupied with their lives, farms etc. that they did not unite as in former times to help their threatened brothers.

The leader of the hour was the prophetess DEBORAH of the tribe of Ephraim. The Midrash states that she was exceptionally wealthy (Targum on Judges 4:5 teaches that the topography in this verse alludes not to places but to her sources of wealth, see Rashi ad loc.). ARI explains the topography spiritually: Devorah is rooted in MALCHUS, Her "husband" LAPIDOS (=flashing torches=BARAK=flash of lightening) is YESOD. The TOMER under which she modestly sits so as not to have YICHUD with the Israelites who come to consult her on Torah law also alludes to YESOD. It was "between RAMAH and BEIT EL" because BEIT EL is Leah who is RAMAH, "high up", the concealed world of BINAH. Thus we begin to see how it is that Devorah was part of the repair of the faulty world of Yavin-Daat of Kelipah.

"What was Devorah doing there judging Israel - wasn't Pinchas ben Elazar still alive? I BRING HEAVEN AND EARTH TO WITNESS: BE IT A GENTILE OR ISRAELITE, A MAN OR A WOMAN, A SLAVE OR MAIDSERVANT, ACCORDING TO A PERSON'S DEEDS, SO HOLY SPIRIT DWELLS UPON THEM. In the academy of Elijah it was taught that Devorah's husband was an ignoramus, but Devorah said to him, 'Go and make wicks for the lamp in the Sanctuary in Shilo and then your share will be among the righteous among them and you will come to the life of the world to come.' Thus he would make the wicks and he had three names: Lapidos, Barak and Michael." (Midrash Tanchumah). The concept of the wick of the lamp is bound up with Binah (see Likutey Moharan I:60 etc.).

The ten thousand men of Naftali and Zevulun that Barak brought against Sisera were nothing but small farmers - how were they to stand up against Sisera's hosts and his 900 iron chariots? Barak went to Mount Tabor to lure Sisera out against him, but Sisera was a wily general and knew that his chariots would be useless in the rocky terrain of the mountain. It was springtime, and he stayed down below in the valley of the upper Kishon, where he expected that his chariots would easily overcome the Israelites. (The River Kishon starts in the eastern Galilee and runs all the way through the Yezriel valley down to the Mediterranean Sea by Haifa ).

In the Song of Deborah (ch. 5) we learn that "from heaven they fought -- the very stars fought from their tracks with Sisera" (v. 20). (The initial letters of HAKOCHAVIM MIMESILOSOM NILCHAMU make up HaMaN, for the Divine victory over Sisera was the victory over the husk of Amalek, with which he was bound up. Amalek touts the Law of Nature, but God transcends nature.) How exactly did the very stars miraculously transcend the normal laws of nature to bring about the defeat the Canaanites? It is thought that the miracle consisted in a sudden, totally unexpected tornado sweeping in from the region stretching from the Rift Valley (ARAVA) to the Kinneret east of the Lower Galilee, bringing torrents of pelting rain that turned the Kishon Valley into a treacherous muddy bog that totally incapacitated the iron chariots of the Canaanites and swept them into the river, forcing Sisera to flee ignominiously. The miracle is not that there was a tornado - these occur periodically in this region - but that the tornado came exactly when it did (see Baal Shem Tov al HaTorah, Beshallach).

The other heroine of this story is YAEL, another of the outstanding converts of all time. The wife of the itinerant KEINI, she could have saved Sisera, let him lie with her in the tent and risen to "greatness". Instead she remained faithful to her husband, cleverly giving Sisera not the thirst-quenching waters of kindness but soporific milk, which caused him to doze off exhausted from the battle. She then took the tent peg and smashed his head. It was fitting that it should have been his brain that she dashed, since, as revealed by ARI, Sisera's hold was in the brain and mind (DAAT).

With the destruction of the unholy husk, the holy spark was released, and thus Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef came forth from the descendants of Sisera, just as Rav Shmuel bar Shilas came from those of Haman (ARI). Rabbi Chaim Vital concludes the ARI's Drash on Devorah by saying: "And my master told me that my soul was there too."

* * * The story of the destruction of Sisera's forces and Devora's song, Judges 4:4-24 and 5:1-31, is read as the Haftara of Parshas Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16 * * *




By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved