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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is unique in Sefer Shofetim. It is a song of praise. Praise for God, who enabled victory, and for the people involved who facilitated it.

The rest of the book is filled with narrative. This is often summarised to the extent that key information appears to be left out.  Chapter 4 presented us with a dearth of information on the key characters. For example, we are told little about Devora and left with many questions. In contrast, Chapter 5 contains 31 verses of the Song of Devora. We must ask: what is the message and why is it so important?

 

Furthermore, the text is visually different. The verses are laid out in the format of brick work. This creates a sense of stacked elements, causing stability and permanence. Just as a wall is solidly constructed by alternatively laying successive layers of bricks, this song symbolises a perpetual message. There is only one other place in the Tanach where this phenomenon appears: the Song of the Sea. This was sung by the Jewish people after the miraculous splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Shemot Chapter 15). However, these two songs differ in their content. In Sefer Shemot, the much shorter song describes only the might and power of God, who has saved them. In contrast, in our chapter the song is more of a narrative poem, recounting the events with praise for those involved.

 

The difference between these two otherwise parallel songs is clear. Sefer Shemot recounts the exodus from slavery in Egypt. Following a change in mind from Pharaoh, the Jewish people are chased by the Egyptian army. Having only just gained their freedom, they find themselves surrounded by sea, mountains and the enemy. There is no escape. A miraculous salvation is the only solution and once it is over, it is clear to them to attribute it to God alone. Sefer Shoftim is quite different. The people are free, with a homeland and an army. They can fight back, make decisions, and take an active role towards their own salvation. Of course, the ultimate victory comes from God, as Devora states at the start of her song with “I shall sing praise to Hashem, God of Israel” (5:1-5). Yet, Devora also acknowledges the significance of those people who heeded the call to act: Barak who led the army, Yael who killed Sisera, the tribes of Zevulun and Naftali who went to war.

 

Whilst ultimately everything stems from God, we are reminded by Devora to also give credit to those who make active choices to do the right thing. We should strive to be counted amongst those worthy of the praise. This is one of the main messages of the Song of Devora, a fundamental message worth spending 31 verses to deliver.

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