Beshalach

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Judges 4:4 -5:31

The Parashah and Haftarah recount great Israelite victories, and their songs to God in response. The Haftarah takes place long after Joshua’s death; no national leadership has arisen. Israel's tribes partially occupied their Divinely assigned portions of Canaan, striving for dominance with local idolatrous Canaanites. When Canaanite groups threatened, ad-hoc, charismatic, military leaders - "judges" - assembled men to fight and save them.

Haftarah Breakdown

The Canaanite king, Jabin, his general, Sisera, and their 900 iron chariots oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. The prophetess Deborah, the judge of that era (4:4-5), sent a message to Barak, instructing him to ascend Mt. Tabor with 10,000 men while she drew Sisera’s forces into the wadi (seasonal river bed) of Kishon (4:6-11). God flooded the wadi (5:23), trapping the chariots. Barak’s troops descended and slaughtered their foes. Sisera fled (4:12-17), taking refuge in the tent of Yael since she and her fellow Kenites were at peace with Jabin; nonetheless, she and the Kenites were Israelite allies. She betrayed Sisera, hammering a tent peg into his temple to kill him as he slept (4:18-23). After this Divine victory against Jabin (4:24), Deborah and Barak sang the following song to God:

Verses 5:1-5: Praise of God for allowing the Israelite volunteer forces to defeat their enemy.

Judges 5:2

When [the enemy makes] breaches among Israel, [and when, at the same time,] the people volunteer - bless the Lord!

בִּפְרֹ֤עַ פְּרָעוֹת֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהִתְנַדֵּ֖ב עָ֑ם בָּרֲכ֖וּ ה' ׃

Verses 5:6-8: The Israelites were weak, oppressed, and idolatrous until Deborah, “Israel’s mother,” rose to power.

Judges 5:7

Habitation of unwalled villages ceased - they ceased in Israel until I, Deborah, arose; I, a mother in Israel, arose.

חָדְל֧וּ פְרָז֛וֹן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חָדֵ֑לּוּ עַ֤ד שַׁקַּ֙מְתִּי֙ דְּבוֹרָ֔ה שַׁקַּ֥מְתִּי אֵ֖ם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Verses 5:9-13 Deborah rouses herself and Israelite society to battle with bold praises of God’s victorious might.

Judges 5:10

[You who] ride on white donkeys, those that sit on rich cloths, and those walking on path[s] - speak [of God’s victories!]

רֹכְבֵי֩ אֲתֹנ֨וֹת צְחֹר֜וֹת יֹשְׁבֵ֧י עַל־מִדִּ֛ין וְהֹלְכֵ֥י עַל־דֶּ֖רֶךְ שִֽׂיחוּ׃

Verses 5:14-18: Praise for the tribes who aided in the battle, and condemnation for those who did not.

Judges 5:15

Issachar’s princes were with Deborah; like Barak was Issachar, traveling into the valley. Among Reuben’s divisions were [only] great resolutions of heart.

וְשָׂרַ֤י בְּיִשָּׂשכָר֙ עִם־דְּבֹרָ֔ה וְיִשָּׂשכָר֙ כֵּ֣ן בָּרָ֔ק בָּעֵ֖מֶק שֻׁלַּ֣ח בְּרַגְלָ֑יו בִּפְלַגּ֣וֹת רְאוּבֵ֔ן גְּדֹלִ֖ים חִקְקֵי־לֵֽב׃

Verses 5:19-22: God directs the forces of nature to aid the Israelites in battle.

Judges 5:21

The Kishon wadi swept them away - that ancient wadi, the Kishon wadi. March on, O my soul, with strength!

נַ֤חַל קִישׁוֹן֙ גְּרָפָ֔ם נַ֥חַל קְדוּמִ֖ים נַ֣חַל קִישׁ֑וֹן תִּדְרְכִ֥י נַפְשִׁ֖י עֹֽז׃

Verses 5:23-27: In contrast to the Israelites dwelling in Meroz who are cursed by God for not aiding their fellow Israelites, Yael the Kenite is blessed for assassinating Sisera.

Judges 5:24

Most blessed of women is Yael, wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of women in tents.

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

Verses 5:28-30: Sisera’s mother worries and weeps while imagining his forces’ pillaging.

Judges 5:28

Through the window she looked forth; Sisera’s mother sobbed through the lattice: “Why is his chariot late in coming? Why tarry his chariots’ strides?”             בְּעַד֩ הַחַלּ֨וֹן נִשְׁקְפָ֧ה וַתְּיַבֵּ֛ב אֵ֥ם סִֽיסְרָ֖א בְּעַ֣ד הָֽאֶשְׁנָ֑ב מַדּ֗וּעַ בֹּשֵׁ֤שׁ רִכְבּוֹ֙ לָב֔וֹא מַדּ֣וּעַ אֶֽחֱר֔וּ פַּעֲמֵ֖י מַרְכְּבוֹתָֽיו׃

Verse 5:31: Sisera’s defeat heralded decades of peace in Canaan.

Judges 5:31

So [like Sisera] may perish all Your enemies, O Lord - but let those who love Him be as the sun going forth in its might! 

The land was tranquil for forty years.

כֵּ֠ן יֹאבְד֤וּ כָל־אוֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ ה' וְאֹ֣הֲבָ֔יו כְּצֵ֥את הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ בִּגְבֻרָת֑וֹ וַתִּשְׁקֹ֥ט הָאָ֖רֶץ אַרְבָּעִ֥ים שָׁנָֽה׃

Connections

The Talmud asserts that the defeat of Sisera’s army was greater than the drowning of the Egyptian army at the time of the Exodus:

Pesachim 118b

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the ministering angel of the sea: “Spew out [the dead Egyptians] onto dry land.” [The angel] said before Him: “Master of the Universe! Is there a servant whose master gives him a gift and then takes it from him?” [God] said to him: “I will give you one and a half times their number…wadi Kishon will be My guarantor.” Immediately, it spewed them out onto the land…

What does “one and a half times their number” refer to? (Exodus 14:7) states about Pharaoh, “Six hundred chosen chariots”, whereas regarding Sisera, (Judges 4:13) states: “Nine hundred iron chariots.”

אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְשַׂר שֶׁל יָם פְּלוֹט אוֹתָן לַיַּבָּשָׁה אָמַר לְפָנָיו רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם כְּלוּם יֵשׁ עֶבֶד שֶׁנּוֹתֵן לוֹ רַבּוֹ מַתָּנָה וְחוֹזֵר וְנוֹטֵל מִמֶּנּוּ אָמַר לוֹ אֶתֵּן לָךְ אֶחָד וּמֶחֱצָה שֶׁבָּהֶן...אָמַר לוֹ נַחַל קִישׁוֹן יְהֵא לִי עָרֵב מִיָּד פָּלַט אוֹתָן לַיַּבָּשָׁה …

מַאי אֶחָד וּמֶחֱצָה שֶׁבָּהֶן דְּאִילּוּ בְּפַרְעֹה כְּתִיב שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בָּחוּר וְאִילּוּ בְּסִיסְרָא כְּתִיב תְּשַׁע מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל

With emendations, biblical translations are by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg and other translations are from Sefaria.org.

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