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January 30, 2010
Judges 4:4-5:31

This morning’s haftarah is likely one of the most ancient of our haftarot. It can be dated because of the period to which it refers and because of the song it contains. One of the ways that old texts are preserved is through the transmission of songs. We are told the story of Deborah, the prophetess. Yet while Deborah prophesies, her story is contained in the beginning of the book of Judges rather than amont the books of the Prophets. The Judges more or less governed Israel for two hundred years after the death of Joshua, that is to say, after the entrance into the land and its subsequent conquest which took place around the year 1175 B.C.E.

The period of the Judges began with Deborah and ended with the birth of the last of the Judges, Samuel. It was a period lacking a central government and one of the book’s central messages is that the people need more than just charismatic figures to guide them. They need a king. Deborah was one of thirteen charismatic figures who “judged” Israel during this period. Some of the others were Gideon, Samson, Othniel, Shamgar and Jepthah. Judges weren’t elected; they simply appeared at times of historical need.

The text is linked to the Torah portion because both of the songs are songs of liberation and victory. In the Ashkenazic tradition, both texts are also told in a narrative version as well. While the details of the song and the narrative texts do not completely correspond, they can be viewed as one unit.

What if anything can this haftarah teach us?

Aaah grasshopper, it is more than just a story. It is a piece of our historical memory. On one level, the stories we read in the Torah and Haftarah this week tell us that people become inspired and can motivate others to perform great and important acts. On another level, the story simply reaches out and says, “This story occurred more than thirty-one hundred years ago and was recorded in a book that was written more than two thousand years ago . We can visit the places where this story took place. We can imagine the world in which it was written, a world whose description was transmitted in song for hundreds and hundreds of years. This story is older than Adon Olam. It is older that the Shema. Grab this opportunity to help you understand the first blessing of the Amidah, which says, The God of Abraham, The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, and internalize the fact that you are a link in a great chain that reaches across time. How many people know who they are and from where they have come? Let your toes sink into this story and root you more firmly.”

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish" Jewish Lights Publishing

Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/

free home deliveryThe FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.

In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.

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