May 26, 2024
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Parshat Beshalach

Chapters 4 and 5 of Sefer Shoftim, from which this week’s haftarah is taken, tell the story of Israel’s struggle against the northern Canaanite tribes who oppressed Israel for 20 years. The parallels of this story to the events depicted in the parsha are numerous and convincing. Our rabbis point out (Pesachim 118b) that the victory over the Canaanites actually mirrored the victory over the Egyptians. As the Egyptians drowned in the waters of the Yam Suf, so were the Canaanites swept away by the waters of Nachal Kishon. While the chariots of Egypt were mired in the muck of the sea bed, so were the Canaanite chariots stuck in the mud of the overflowing river. And just as the Egyptians lost 600 iron chariots in the Reed Sea, so the Canaanites lost 900 chariots at Har Tavor. In reaction to this miraculous and unexpected victory, Moshe Rabbeinu led Israel in song, and in the same way, Devorah the neviah led Israel in song after their miraculous and unexpected victory.

And yet, there are differences between the two events as well and they too deserve our attention. The song of Moshe was led by Moshe himself but responded to by all of Israel who witnessed and participated in this great event. Furthermore, the “shira,” Moshe’s song of victory, tells of the miraculous events wrought by Hashem in defeating the Egyptian army, but also focuses upon the future as well: how the defeat of Egypt would strike fear into the hearts of the surrounding nations, how God would bring them to their land and settle them there, and even that He would establish a Mikdash, a Holy Temple.

This was not true of Devorah’s song, an ode that only she and her general Barak sang. The chant focuses solely upon the events that led to victory and makes no mention of the future. Tellingly, Devorah uses the song not only to praise those who fought but to condemn the majority of the tribes who refused to respond to the prophetess’ pleas for help. This last point is of great importance. A study of Sefer Shoftim will show that no one leader was able to rally the entire nation behind his/her leadership. Had they been able to, they would have been “melachim,” kings, and not “shoftim,” local chieftains. It would take almost 400 years from the singular rule of Yehoshua to the kingship of Shaul until a monarchy could be established.

That inability was due to one primary factor: the failure of the tribes to unite as one nation and to realize that the fate of one would be the fate of all. It is this lesson that remained paramount for our nation throughout its history and remains paramount for us today as well.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

 

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