A beacon in times of despair
When Barak ben Avinoam is about to head into battle, he offers up this bizarre ultimatum to Devorah, the prophetess and judge of the time. “Come with me to the battlefield,” he says, “or I’m not going.” It is quite literally the last thing you would expect to leave the lips of a commander, a military man. Certainly the stereotype of a fighter is someone who has full confidence in himself and his abilities as a strategist. This seems like the worst sort of strategy out there.
Yet she goes. I’ve probably read this perek dozens of times and I’ve taught it a whole bunch as well. But I don’t think I ever got it.
Here is what it takes to get it. To understand the role Devorah played, perhaps one needs to think about the rabbanim of yeshivot around the country who race down to the outskirts of Azza to sit with their students for brief moments between battles, to offer their talmidim words of Torah, words of encouragement, reassurances and love. To look at Devorah through the lens of the mothers, wives and girlfriends who find their way down to give a kiss, a hug and some tears. To understand what war is when there is a presence of wisdom and kindness. That is what Devorah was there to offer — spirituality and a connection with God at a point when people need it the most.
In Barak’s war, there were 10,000 soldiers. At last count, I think we may have over 70,000 soldiers called into the army and into battle. There are many boys that I love so so much that are in Azza. There are many mothers, wives and girlfriends that occupy my thoughts every hour of every day. There are boys who haven’t been in touch with anyone in 22 days, or who had a 2 minute chat with a parent or the newlyweds separated after two weeks to be reunited in the south for a quick hug.
At the end of the battle, Devorah writes a song and sings it. She is not the only one to do so. Miriam takes out her tambourine and dances to a song after the Jewish people leave Egypt. Naomi Shemer finished her magnum opus, Jerusalem of Gold, only after she heard soldiers singing her song at the kotel at the end of the 1967 war. There is a need for the poetry of those who experience tragedy and joy who sing of love and loss and victory and hope. I hope that our song is written soon, when the boys are home, when there is quiet in a land that is full of scars.
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