Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

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Shabbat Shira

15 Shevat 5760

In this haftorah [prophetic Scripture reading, Judges 4:4 – 5:31], Deborah helps Barak defeat his enemies, more or less. His enemies, or enemy, is Sisera, a general fighting for King Jabin of Canaan. In the end, Sisera gets killed by a tent spike through the head. But as they say, what goes around, comes around.

In every resource that I have read, it says Deborah was a prophet. To add on to that, I’ve also read that she was the Prophet of War. Isn’t that cool? Having a woman as the Prophet of War? I think that means something, don’t you? I mean, the Sages or whoever wrote the Tanach — we won’t get into that now — had so many prophets. Miriam, Deborah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Elijah are the major prophets. Just as I read that Deborah is the Prophet of War, some texts give us a shorthand way to think about each of them. Miriam is the prophet of water. Isaiah is the prophet of redemption and the Messiah. Elijah is the prophet of mitzvot and Gemilut Hasadim [kindness]. Ezekiel is the prophet of post-temple Judaism. Someone once told me that Ezekiel is the prophet of LSD, because he had all those visions. Lastly, as I said before, Deborah is the prophet of war.

Back to what I was saying. The Sages decided to assign a woman the title of Warrior. Whether in history, mythology, Judaism, or any hero story, the warriors and battle leaders were male. And yet, here is Deborah, a general. I just find that quite interesting. Don’t you?

In this haftorah, Deborah possesses a great strength and morality. She knows what to do without thinking really hard and long about it. I think that this is one of the most feminist haftorahs I’ve ever heard. Women are the main topic in this haftorah, and not just because they’re somebody’s wife/mother/sister or daughter. Deborah is the main character in this, but there’s also Yael, who kills Sisera in his sleep. After, of course, she drugged him so he’d feel no pain. Or much pain, at least. And then there’s this week’s parsha, where Miriam and the women sing their song after crossing the Red Sea. Unfortunately, Moses has to interfere with Mi Chamocha. Oh well.

I myself am a very strong feminist. I feel that women are every bit as equal as men. But, I will not say equal in all ways. Most men are stronger than women, but that’s just the way they are built and the way the public sees men. Because of that, some men try to keep in shape and try to maintain their male status in the public eye. This is all right with me, besides the fact that about half of the males I’ve ever met flaunt their strength somehow. I often wonder about guys who have to do that. Are they that insecure? Luckily women today don’t have to wonder about what they can attain physically. Just look at the US women’s soccer team, and our own undefeated UCONN women Huskies. Not to make the guys feel any worse, well, maybe just a little, but are the men’s Huskies undefeated? I think not.

Another issue like that is about women in the service. I read an article about women in the Israeli army. Every Israeli citizen 18 years or older serves in the army for some portion of their life. The only position that Israel won’t let women have in the army is in the front lines. They let women drive hummers, teach weaponry, teach tank driving, and let women do transmissions and communications, and much more, but they won’t let them up front with the men. This is still a big issue and there are lots of arguments about this in Israel. I only hope that women will prevail. In the US Army, things are completely different. Women are a small minority there, and don’t have the same opportunities as men. Doesn’t give the US a good “rep” now does it?

Now let’s talk about Miriam. From the first time we hear about her, as baby Moses’ big sister, she’s in the role of nurturer. Miriam saw to it, with calm courage and impeccable timing, that the Pharoah’s daughter engaged the services of their mother Yocheved as wet nurse. In fact, if it were not for Miriam, Moses might not have been born. Don’t take that the wrong way. You’ll remember that Pharoah had said that newborn Jewish boys were to be killed. The midrash says that Miriam’s father was so distraught by this, that he divorced Yocheved and swore he would bring no more babies into the world. Miriam, says the midrash, told her father “You are worse than Pharoah! He’s trying to kill only the boys, and you’re trying to do away with the girls too!” The truth of his daughter’s words convinced him to remarry Yocheved and have children. Hence, Moses.

Just like she helped save her infant brother, we later learn that it’s Miriam who helps the infant nation of Israel survive in the desert. The wandering Israelites were accompanied by a miraculous well of water that traveled with them and kept them alive for forty years. Legend says that this well was a gift from God to honor the merit of the prophet Miriam.

To provide lifesaving water, like Miriam, might seem the very opposite of planning a fatal attack against your enemies, like Deborah. But in my mind, they are more alike than they seem. Take their strengths, for instance. Deborah’s strength is out there, commanding her army and being a leader. Miriam’s strength as a physical and spiritual healer of her people, may not be as outwardly visible but is most certainly there. Another similarity as I said before, is their strength as individuals, not just as who they’re related to. Both of these women speak their minds, which I find to be a very important trait in anybody. A final similarity, it seems to me, is family relationships. Both of these women had strong family ties, whether it was to a spouse, like Deborah, or to siblings, like Miriam.

I am at a certain point in my life now, and I feel I should tell you all about it. So, here’s me. Now, don’t think I’m some arrogant girl who thinks she’s always right, because I am. But let’s get on with it.

I wrote this in my room listening to some very angry music. Sometimes I think of myself as a very disturbed child, but everyone else thinks not. I put on a mask in front of people, making them think I am a opinionated, smart, sarcastic young woman. But inside, I am something completely different. Everybody does something behind closed doors, whether it be write a cheap romance novel or go to some forbidden site on the Web. The thing I do behind closed doors is write poetry. Long and involved, they usually represent some flaw in humanity or in myself or just some tragic love poem. Words spurt out of my mouth and I have to write them down or else I lose them, the ideas slipping through my fingers like grains of sand in an hourglass.

I demand of myself to be perfect, which is my worst fault. I want to please the demands of the public, and be what everyone wants me to be. But then I look at myself and see someone who is not me, and I change, quickly. Then I become a rebel, or a radical. I don’t listen to the authority figure, I dye my hair bright red, or blue, or purple. I wear tank tops that show my bra strap, and use black nail polish. And then I look at myself again and see someone else, who is also not me. Finally I look through the make-up and clothes and dye and see a naked, shivering run-of-the-mill girl who’s trapped in her mind, trying to get out of a contradiction in itself.

Beverly Sills, an opera singer, once said, “A happy woman is one who has no cares at all; a cheerful woman is one who has cares but doesn’t let them get her down.” I guess that’s why some people identify me as a pessimist and others consider me odd. I can swear and curse and disrespect others, and then I can gasp if someone says someone else is a BLEEEP!!!!

I am somewhat of a paranoid, thinking that if I walk down the street at night someone is going to come out and kill me or rape me or something. I think that if I grow up to be a Mob gangster that I might like it. I also think that if I grow up to be a teacher that I might like it.

As I make decisions about my future, I have to look at what is important in life. Family, friends, and religion, and don’t forget money. But I look at Deborah and Miriam and see women who knew themselves and knew how they wanted to live, and I have to admire that.

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