January 25, 2013
Last week, that great North American retailer, Wal-Mart made a stunning announcement. Wal-Mart stated that it planned on hiring 100,000 honorably discharged veterans over the next five years. Cynics called it a publicity stunt, the First Lady commented that she was very supportive of the announcement. Wherever on the spectrum you may fall, no one can argue that the brave young men and women that serve in the armed forces is a very unique group that carries its own distinctive code, its own distinctive issues and tragedies including an obscenely high suicide rate. The families of these young men and woman also have their own distinct issues, concerns, code. And support network. Until this announcement by WalMart, support networks for those who serve and their families had been confined to family, friends, non-profits, government agencies and small business. Finally, a nationally based company in the private sector recognizes the distinct nature of these unique men, women, and their familes and their value in, G-d willing, a peaceful and vibrant society.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Songs. This Shabbat we read Parshat Beshallach. B'nai Yisroel traverses The Yam Suf – The Reed Sea, and upon a successful crossing, Moshe and B'nai Yisroel sing a song of Praise to God. In continuing the theme of Shira -Song, the Haftorah includes the Song of Deborah. This was a song that also praised God, as well as B'nai Yisroel's soldiers that fought against General Sisera and King Jabin of Hazor. The Haftorah, taken from the book of Judges contains a narrative in which Deborah, the Judge, the leader of the loose confederation of tribes that comprised the Nation of Israel, prophesized that Sisera will be murdered by the hand of a woman. By doing so, the nation will be saved. She prophesizes that her general, Barak, will defeat Sisera's men. After the narrative concludes, a "Song" or a poem retelling the story of Israel's victory, Deborah's leadership, and God's help makes this Haftorah the longest and perhaps the most linguistically complex of all the Haftorot.
One aspect of the linguistic difficulty of Deborah's song occurs at the beginning of the song itself. Bifroah Pra'ot B'yisroel B'Hitnadeiv Am Barchu Adoshem either raises an insight into the Deborah's biblically oriented theology, that Bifroah- vengeance by God because of Israel's breaching of the covenenat served as a great motivator for Teshuvah and the Israelite soldies; therefore God should be blessed; However Bifroah Pra'ot B'Yisroel – When Israelites let their hair grow loose and volunteered themselves under a unifying cause of defeating Sisera – God should be blessed (Jud.5:2). Parah – Peh Resh Ayin either means "punish" or "neglect ones' hair" as a mourner would neglect his hair or as a Nazir would neglect his hair. Based upon the Targum, (the Aramaic translation of the text explains that Israel had been rebellious); many of the classical Meforshim including RaDaK and Rashi, understand this line of Deborah's poetry as Deborah and Israelite society banned together under a common cause as a response to God's meting out punishment because of Israel's poor behavior. Yet the imagery of Israelites neglecting their hair was perhaps a reference to Israelite soldiers who very frequently took the vow of the Nazirite (Plaut/Stern Haftarah Commentary p.165). The voluntary vow also required a separation from the community and entry into a very different community, the army unified by a common cause, Sisera and his army.
In a sense the soldiers must separate themselves from the "home" community and form their own military community. They band together with a common bond and fight. Whether the motivation is a result of a people's unified response to some grand theological punishment or a unified response to an external force that threatens society's existence; Deborah finds it praiseworthy that political, social, and geographic differences can be set aside for a greater purpose. Not only is that a valuable lesson for Deborah and her army and certainly the nation as a whole; it also serves as a valuable lesson to all those leaders and volunteers who try to make any community vibrant espousing the values and ideals of what binds us together. The survival and future of any Jewish community relies completely upon the members of that community making a commitment of time, money expertise and participation.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Leslie Lipson. Rabbi Lipson is the Rabbi at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. He grew up in Rochester, New York where he attended Beth El; attending Camp Ramah in Canada as both a camper and on staff. After graduating from Haverford College, Rabbi Lipson traded currency on Wall Street and then received an MBA at York University in Toronto. After working in the foreign exchange industry for several more years, Rabbi Lipson decided to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary. While studying for rabbinic ordination, he also received a Masters in Education.
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