It's the song of Devorah the Prophet (and Barak - those misogynists just had to get the man in there, didn't they?) It's stirring words are, hopefully, known to many. If nothing else, perhaps you know the Debbie Friedman song the resonates with the words from verse 12:
Uri, uri, Devorah Uri, uri, dabri shir
Arise, arise, Devorah Arise, arise, and sing a song.
(Debbie's words are a bit more poetic than the JPS' "Awake, awake, strike up the chant!" That feels more like Gershwin that Devorah the prophet!)
As a musician, I wonder what this ancient song might have really sounded like when it was first sung. what was its melody and form? Was it stirring, marshal-sounding music? Surely, at some points, it must have been. However, as the song tells the entire tale of Sisera and Jael, surely the style of music was varied for dramatic effect. How, exactly, might one have sung verse 21?
"Vatikakh Yael eyshet-khever et y'tad ha'ohel vatasem et-hamakevet b'yadah vatavo eilav balat v'titka et-hayateid Barakato v'titznakh ba'eretz v'hu-nirdam vaya'af vayamot."
The Yael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he (Sisera) was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down into the ground. Thus he died."
[It's interesting to note that it is the female judge and prophet Devorah who says to Barak, leader of the army, "Up! This is the day on which he L"rd will deliver Sisera into your hands" yet it is through another female hand, that of the brave and wily Yael, that Sisera meets his death.]
It's a great story, with heroes and villains and great drama, yet, as with the parasha in Torah with which it is linked, it requires some troubling things to happen for Israel to be delivered.
About 2/3rds of the way through the song of Devorah is this one standout phrase, usually separated in the English text to show that it doesn't flow quite so smoothly from the other two clauses of the stanza. It's at the end of verse 21 in chapter 5 of Judges:
"Tidrekhi nafshi oz" March on, my soul, with courage! (JPS)
Words that could just as easily been on the lips of Nachshon ben Aminadav, who, in the midrash, is the brave soul who ventures forth into the Yam Suf and only with his courage do the waters split asunder.
Words that are on my lips, as I read through both our parasha and haftarah. Yes, great miracles, great victories happen. Yet they are accompanied with so much death, so many ugly things. Without them, however, the victories might not have come to pass. It's an unfortunate reality of the human condition. G"d does not seem inclined to intervene by completely stopping humans from warring and fighting. G"d's intervention seems to relate more to the outcome than the battle itself.
Would that G"d's efforts were focused on stopping us from having wars, rather than intervening to bring about conclusions to conflict that fit G"d's plan. Ken y'hi ratson. May this be G"d's will.
Yet this is a case when truly, adding ken y'hi ratsoneinu, may this be our will, is clearly called for. We have the capacity to stop wars. We shouldn't need G"d to stop them for us, and G"d usually doesn't. The lesson is that the responsibility is ours. And this is one lesson which, when we are tested on, we fail over and over.
Goodness, between the ugly acts in the texts of the parasha and the haftarah, and the ugly realities of war and the human condition, I've rambled myself into a pretty negative and depressing place.
There's only one way out.
March on, my soul, with courage.
©2007 by Adrian A. Durlester
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