The ideas expressed here are from various sources. There will be commentaries from chanoch, which will be clearly identified.
We utilize a website to read the source known as Mechon Mamre.
chanoch adds: It is important to realize, according to the teachings of the Sages, two things. Each verse we read has 70 explanations. Each verse applies to us in this generation.
After Joshua’s death, the tribes of Israel continue their conquest of the southern regions of Canaan, but they are unable to cleanse the land thoroughly of its native inhabitants. God declares that these remaining people will be an impediment to Israel’s enjoyment of the promised land. Generations pass, and the younger Israelites turn away from God, intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshipping the local deities. God threatens to abandon Israel because of the disobedience of the youth, but he selects a series of judges, or rulers, to act as temporary leaders for the people.
chanoch adds: Did HaShem overtly choose the 12 people to become judges? Did the people use the Urim VeTuvim? Did the people follow righteous people in an unwritten agreement? Does HaShem provide a judge in the appearance / illusion of someone rising to lead the nation?
Judgeb Devorah Summary
A prophet named Deborah emerges as Israel’s new judge after Israel returns to evil and is invaded by a mighty army from the north. Counseling Israel’s tribes under a great tree, she calls for an insurrection, and, together with God’s help, the Israelites defeat the king’s 900 chariots, sending the Canaanite general, Sisera, into retreat. When Sisera seeks refuge in a local woman’s tent, the owner, Jael, lures Sisera to sleep and kills him, hammering a peg into his skull. Deborah recounts the victory in a lengthy song, extolling God as a warrior and herself as the “mother in Israel” (5:7).
Judge Gideon Summary
God commissions a humble man, Gideon, to save Israel from its next invaders, the Midianites, who impoverish and scatter the people. Gideon tears down his father’s altar to the god Baal, and the Israelites respond in droves to his call to fight. God demands fewer men for the battle, and, in a test, Gideon leads the men to a river to drink. Those who cup their hands to drink are sent home, and the remaining three hundred men who lap the water with their tongues are chosen for God’s army. Spying on the enemy troops at night, Gideon overhears a Midianite soldier tell his friend about a dream in which a small loaf of bread was able to knock down a large Midianite tent. The friend interprets the dream as a sign that Midian will be defeated by Israel. Gideon and his few men surround the camps, and—with the sound of trumpets and broken jars—the Israelites emit such a clamorous war cry that the Midianites turn and slay each other. Israel attempts to make Gideon its king, but Gideon refuses, proclaiming that God alone is ruler of Israel.
Judge Jephthah Summary
Widespread worship of the god Baal plagues Israel, and Gideon’s son Abimelech serves a violent three-year reign as Israel’s king. His tyrannical reign ends when a woman throws a millstone on Abimelech’s head. Pressured by the Philistines from the east and the Ammonites from the west, Israel turns from its idol worship and God selects a new judge, Jephthah, the son of a prostitute, to challenge the Ammonites. Jephthah promises God that, if he is victorious, he will sacrifice to God the first thing that comes out of his house the day he returns from battle. Upon devastating the Ammonites, Jephthah returns home to see his daughter emerge from his house, dancing, to greet him. Jephthah laments his promise, but his daughter encourages him to remain faithful to God, and Jephthah kills the virgin girl.
Judge Samson Summary
The Philistines continue to oppress Israel, and the angel of God appears to a childless Israelite couple, promising them a son who will become Israel’s next deliverer. The couple raises their son, Samson, as a Nazirite—a person who symbolizes his devotion to God by never cutting his hair. God blesses Samson with exceptional abilities, and one day Samson kills a lion with his bare hands. Contrary to his parents’ urging, Samson chooses a Philistine woman to be his wife. During the wedding ceremony, he baffles the Philistines with a riddle, the answer to which they discover only when Samson’s wife reveals the answer to them. Samson burns with anger and goes home without his wife, but when he returns to retrieve her, the Philistines have given her to another man. Samson captures three hundred foxes and ties torches to each of their tails, setting the Philistine crops ablaze. When the Philistines pursue Samson, the Israelites hand him over to his enemies, bound at the wrist. With God’s power, Samson breaks his bindings and uses the jaw-bone of a donkey to kill a thousand Philistine men.
Again, Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah. The Philistine officials urge Delilah to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. Three times, Delilah asks Samson the source of his power, and Samson lies to her each time, duping the officials in their attempts to subdue him. After a while, Samson tells her the truth, informing her that his long hair is the source of his strength. While Samson is asleep, Delilah has his hair cut and alerts the officials, who capture him and gouge out his eyes. In prison, Samson’s hair begins to grow again, and, during a Philistine religious festival, the blind Samson is brought out to entertain the crowds. Samson asks his servant to guide him to the pillars of the arena, and—crying out to God—Samson knocks down the pillars of the temple, killing the Philistine rulers.
Judge Strong Man Summary
Without a judge, Israel becomes even more corrupt. One day, a man and his concubine are accosted while spending the night in the Israelite tribe of Benjamin. When a gang of Benjamite men demand to have sex with the man, he offers them his concubine instead, and the men rape her repeatedly throughout the night until she dies. Enraged, the man brings the concubine home and cuts her into twelve pieces, sending a piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel as a symbol of Israel’s corruption. The rest of Israel rallies together in opposition to the tribe of Benjamin, and, with God’s help, the united tribes kill more than 25,000 Benjamites. Israel grieves for its lost tribe and helps the remaining Benjamites repopulate their land.
chanoch adds:After reading the above summaries one needs to ask questions. 1. What does one learn about character traits from the Names and stories? 2. Which Tribe does each Judge come from? 3. How does that add to our understanding of nthe charactwer traits?
3 times in this Sefer the phrase " The people did what was good in their eyes. What is to learned from these facts?
Biblical scholars typically group the books of Joshua and Judges together, noting how well the two works complement each other. On the one hand, Joshua purports to tell a chronological history of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan, but the account and the conquest itself seem too perfect to be accurate. In contrast, Judges is a compilation of myths about the early years of the Israelite settlement. While the stories are indeed fanciful, they suggest a gradual and disjointed occupation of the promised land that is probably more true to history than the Book of Joshua. While Joshua provides a methodical description of the various battles and an explanation of the distribution of land, Judges reveals the stories that the Israelite conquerors told as they gradually took over.
These individual accounts of Israel’s judges are myths in the true sense of the word—not because they are false but because they are important to early Hebrew culture. The central theme of these myths is heroic struggle, chiefly of marginalized or oppressed people. The Israelites in the Book of Judges are strangers in a land they have recently conquered, and they are pressured from all sides by powerful regimes. Israel’s judges manifest the virtues of this marginalized status. Jephthah is the son of a prostitute. The narrator takes pains to note that Ehud is left-handed, and it is this characteristic that enables Ehud to draw his sword and kill the Moabite king by surprise. Even more important than Deborah as a female hero is Jael, who uses the pretense of feminine warmth to draw a great commander into her tent, comforting him before she kills him.
The myth of Samson may be more appropriately described as an epic, because it is a relatively long story concerning the development of a single, extraordinary hero who, it might be said, is a metaphor for ancient Israel itself. Samson epitomizes some interesting dualities—brute nature versus civilized culture, strength versus weakness, Hebrew versus Philistine. What is unique to this story and to Judges as a whole, is that, unlike earlier books, the struggle between these opposing forces does not serve to develop irony or reversal. For Samson, the line between these distinctions is blurred. Samson—defined more by his identity as a Nazirite—is a displaced man, roaming back and forth between his home and Philistine, falling in love with Philistine women yet terrorizing the Philistines, and eventually suffering betrayal by the Israelites in return. It is only when Samson destroys the temple, crying out, “Let me die with the Philistines!” that Israel is saved through Samson’s service (16:30). The epic of Samson shows that Israel’s struggle—and its salvation—consists less of cleansing foreign influences from the land than of grappling with those influences while remaining faithful to God.
The stories in Judges are filled with extreme violence. This violence may cause us to question how God can be good if the greater part of the tribe of Benjamin is killed to make a religious point, or if Jephthah must keep his promise to God by killing his daughter. One answer is that the abundant violence in Israel is not due to God’s wrath but to Israel’s wickedness. Israel promiscuously worships other gods and insists on returning to evil despite God’s help. Another, more subtle answer, is that death in Judges is not always an absolute evil but is, at times, a thing of beauty. The tales in Judges begin to develop the notion of sacrifice—the idea that one person’s death can be meaningful to another person, for religious or ethical reasons. Samson’s death saves Israel from Philistine persecution, and Sisera’s death at Jael’s hands is a poignant symbol of Israel’s victory to be celebrated in song (5:24–30). The writer tells us that the sacrifice of Jephthah’s virgin daughter becomes a tradition among the Israelites, an annual celebration of the story by adolescent girls to symbolize passage from innocence into womanhood (11:39–40).
The Book of Judges narrates the inner, spiritual history of Israel from after the death of Joshua until the very threshold of the establishment of the kingship by the prophet Samuel - a span of some four hundred years, in which the nation was largely without a single, unifying leader except at times when outstanding "Judges" - spiritual leaders of exceptional stature - arose to save them from their plight in face of their enemies. According to our rabbis, the Book of Judges was written by Samuel on the basis of "kabbalah" - i.e. the prophetic tradition handed down from generation to generation until it came to his teacher, Eli the High Priest (Bava Basra 14b; see RaDaK on Judges 1:21). The entire book can be seen as an intimate study of the developing moral sickness of the Israelites in their land that necessitated the establishment of the messianic kingship by Samuel.
chanoch adds: After we complete the study we will address the difference in approach to the summaries.
The principle that "there is no before and after in the Torah" was discussed in the Study Notes on Joshua 23-24. We need this principle now in order to resolve possible confusion caused by the "time-line" of Judges chs 1-2, which zig-zags quite sharply back and forth. Chapter 1 verse 1 of Judges seems to pick up the historical narrative where the book of Joshua left off, but as it begins to describe the tribe of Judah's conquest of their territories, the narrative seamlessly slips back to events that apparently took place in Joshua's lifetime and were already described in the book of Joshua - the conquest of Hebron and that of Dvir by Osniel ben Knaz.(see Joshua chapter 15).
Similarly, Chapter 2 of Judges opens with the appearance of God's messenger from Gilgal to reprove the people, which would seem to have taken place after Joshua's death. Whether or not it did, the text of Ch. 2 then interjects with the retelling of Joshua's death and burial (Ch 2 vv. 6-10) even though the whole book of Judges 1:1 has already started AFTER Joshua's death. (Likewise Numbers 1:1 starts in the SECOND month of the second year after the Exodus, while a later chapter, Numbers 9:1 tells what happened in the FIRST month of the second year!) As stated in the last installment, it is not necessarily the temporal contiguity of events that determines their juxtaposition in the text, but rather their thematic interconnection. Thus we shall find that the two striking episodes described at the end of the book of Judges (ch's 17-21) - Michah's idol and the Concubine of Giv'on - actually occurred in the very beginning of the period of the Judges.
Osniel ben Knaz (also called YAABETZ see Chronicles 1, 2:55) was the second Judge of Israel after Joshua, and the account of his capture of KIRYAT SEFER-DVIR refers allegorically to his conquest of the Torah (particularly those portions that were forgotten after the death of Moses.)
A few hints of the profound allegory that underlies the book of Judges are contained in SEFER HALIKUTIM of the ARI (R. Itzhak Luria, outstanding 16 th century kabbalist). Following the account of the capture of Dvir, we are told that "the children of KAYNI, Moses' father in law (=Jethro) went up from the city of dates (= Jericho ) to be with the children of Judah in the wilderness of Judah ." (1:16).
Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the fat, lush territory around Jericho was given to Jethro's offspring (who as converts did not have a share in the land) but only temporarily, as it would later be given in "compensation" to the Tribe in whose territory the Temple was to be built (Benjamin) as the place of the Temple would no longer be theirs but would belong to all Israel. However, Jethro's offspring, the KAYNITES, had more sense than to attach themselves to a temporary material plot of land. Instead, since they lived in tents anyway, they went to the wilderness of Judah - a territory with no material benefits - in order to learn Torah from YAABETZ=OSNIEL BEN KNAZ and thereby gain an eternal spiritual acquisition. The KAYNITES were later adduced by Jeremiah as the prime exemplar of the righteous convert who chooses the Torah itself as his inheritance (Jer. Ch 35).
The KAYNITES will reappear in our narrative in Judges ch 4 where Yael wife of HEVER HA-KAYNI distinguished herself by killing Sisera. In chapter 4 it says that "Hever HaKayni SEPARATED himself from Kayin (=Adam's son)" (Judges 4:11). They also appear in Samuel, when Saul asks them to move away from the Amalekites, where they were then encamped, in order to facilitate his attack.
ARI explains that Jethro was from the root of Kayin (GEVUROT, severe judgment) and Hever was from the seed of Jethro. This is why he is called HA-KAYNI from the root Kayin. Kayin was a mixture of good and evil, and in Jethro the "food" was sifted out from the "waste" and thereby rectified. This was when the good was SEPARATED from the evil, as alluded to in the above-quoted verse. The evil descended into the husks (Amalek, Goliath) while the good was left in Jethro. KEYNI succeeded in bringing the husk "inside", into the realm of the holy, and thus, "In the place where penitents stand, even complete Tzaddikim cannot stand", because, as ARI explains, the penitents bring the husk inside and sweeten it.
Within the context of these notes it is impossible to condense the ARI's elaborate teachings about the various incarnations alluded to in these stories of RAHAV, YAEL and ELI (the last two have the same Hebrew letters), KAYIN, YISRO (Jethro) and others. I am mentioning them only to underline how profoundly deep are these chapters of NaCh that we have the privilege of studying.
The above secrets relating to these souls are revealed in an extensive Drush of ARI relating to the entire first section of Judges and centering in particular on Deborah (ch's 4-5).
In the course of this Drush ARI reveals that the town of Beit El mentioned in our present text, Judges 1:23 (and is first mentioned in Genesis 12:8 as having been visited by Abraham and later, in Genesis 28:19, as the site of Jacob's dream of the Ladder) alludes to the Partzuf of Leah in the world of Beriyah, while Luz - the "name of the town before" - alludes to the Partzuf of Leah in the world of Atzilut. (Lamed Zayin = 37 = gematria of Leah). In the Form of Man, this corresponds to the place of the knot of the strap (RETZU'AH) of the Tefilin of the Head. As explained in Shulchan Aruch (Code of Torah Law) the knot must be placed at the bottom of the skull (OREF), just above where the neck (TZAVAR) begins. According to our rabbis, it is from this bone that the body of man will develop in time to come, at the time of the resurrection, and this bone is called LUZ. (Many Jews know the tradition that this bone is nourished only by the food we eat at the MELAVEH MALKA feast accompanying out the departing Shabbat each week.)
ARI's introductions may open a tiny chink in the veil to help us appreciate the awesome depths of the very beautiful Midrashim about Luz brought in the "revealed" Torah as opposed to the esoteric Torah of ARI. Thus Rashi (on v. 24) tells us that the only way into this mysterious city of Luz was through a cave, at the entrance to which stood a LUZ (=almond? nut?) tree. (Was there a hidden door in the tree?) The man who showed the Israelites how to get in did not even say a word. He merely gestured with his finger. Further details of the story are given in Sota 46b, where we learn that in return for this great favor, the Israelites spared the man, who went off to found a city likewise named Luz in the Land of the Hitim (Asia Minor) that became prosperous from the Techeiles (blue die) industry, survived even the ravages of Sennacheriv and Nebuchadnezzar, and which even the Angel of Death was not authorized to enter. When the elders of the city, after living on and on, reached the limits of knowledge, they would go outside the city walls and die. All this was the man's reward for having ACCOMPANIED the Israelites and pointing them in the right direction (just as we accompany out the Shabbat). This Midrash suggests that the mystery of Luz is bound up with the mystery of drawing the timeless world to come (Leah in Atzilus) down towards this world (which derives from Beriyah.)
English translations of the Bible say that an ANGEL of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim (Judges 2:1). What is an ANGEL? Our rabbis taught that this "angel" was none other than Pinchas the Priest, of whom the rabbis said that "when holy spirit would rest upon him, his face would burn like fiery torches" (Midrash Tanchumah).
Those who imagine angels as radiant winged beings from other realms may have been looking at medieval artists' reconstructions of events that are based on complete ignorance of the Hebrew language and the true meaning of the Bible. The Hebrew world MAL'ACH, which is frequently translated as "angel", simply means an AGENT or MESSENGER. Indeed this exactly is the meaning of the ancient Greek word ANGELOS from which our world ANGEL derives.
A MAL'ACH from God is definitely not an ordinary, animalistic human being that eats and drinks like a glutton and is three quarters asleep most of the time. This does not mean that God may not at times choose outstanding Tzaddikim who have completely transcended the physical to be His MAL'ACHIM, as in the case of Moses, who is referred to both in the Chumash and in Psalms as a MALACH.
The message of the MALACH who came up "from GILGAL" (=reincarnation, recycling) to BOCHIM ("the weepers") gives the very essence of the moral of the Book of Judges as a whole: The cyclical problem with which Judges deals is that the Israelites failed to drive out all of the Canaanites, instead permitting them to continue to dwell among them. This alone and in itself was not the fatal flaw. The flaw was that as a result, the Israelites MIXED WITH and LEARNED FROM the Canaanites, and adopted the religions and idolatrous practices of the nations around them.
chanoch adds: This is a cultural machlochet with the world of the children of Israel. Do we present ourselves to other humans as righteous and separate from others while asking them to join us and separate in order to get closer to HaShem? Or do we mingle while erecting a personal protection that keeps us safe from the others influence.?
Chapter 2 suddenly interjects the death and burial of Joshua into the reproof that traces the failure of the Children of Israel to live up to God's Covenant (vv. 6-10). We read once again, as already told at the end of Joshua, that Joshua was buried in TIMNATH CHERES to the north of HAR GO'ASH. TIMNATH CHERES means "picture of the sun" - for an image of the sun was placed over Joshua's grave (see Rashi on v. 9). This in itself does not have anything to do with idolatry: the allusion to the sun was fitting since it was Joshua who had stopped the sun in its tracks at Giv'on - Joshua TRANSCENDED NATURE. HAR GO'ASH is the VOLCANO. The rabbis taught that the people failed to eulogize Joshua properly after his death, and as a result God almost destroyed them all under a flood of lava (Rashi on Joshua 30. We note that our texts never refer to thirty days of mourning for Joshua as they do in the case of Moses, Jacob, etc. This is presumably the textual hint that Joshua was not properly eulogized.)
In other words, after Joshua's final address to the people in Shechem (Joshua ch. 24), they all went home to attend to their own vineyards and fig trees without "eulogizing Joshua" i.e. without seeking to INTERNALIZE the lessons that Joshua had imbibed from HIS teacher, Moses (who WAS eulogized for thirty days). This rupture in the tradition is the key to the subsequent tragic history of the Israelites in the Land. They did not draw close to and internalize the messages of their spiritual leaders except when they were direly threatened by their enemies, whereas they should have continued to keep their departed leaders' Torah near to their hearts all the time. (Perhaps this indicates that attaining the true Chassidic relationship between Chassid and Tzaddik would be the remedy and thus one of the main keys to our future redemption???)
chanoch adds: Do you agree or disagree?
Chapter 2 verse 13 tells us that "they abandoned HaShem and served the Baal and the Ashtoroth". Since these terms for idolatrous deities will recur frequently in our texts, it is worth noting that RaDaK (ad loc.) comments that Baal is a generic term for graven images and idols, "since they are like a LORD (Adon = Baal) to those that serve them". (Today also, we see that much of the world is under the spell of the images daily spun by the communications media, which are the latter-day purveyors of idolatry.) While ASHTAROTH are literally images of female sheep, they also allude to the idolatry of wealth (the Hebrew letters of the word OSHER, "wealth" are contained in the name ASHTAROTH.)
The 12 Judges
The title of the book refers to the leaders of the Israelites during this time when they had no kings. There were 12 judges in all. They serve the nation over a period of 80 years.
Othniel is the seconteachesd judge after Joshua. This section is beginning of analyzing this name and what it teaches us.
OTHNIEL - עָתְנִיאֵל בן קנז is from the Tribe of JUDAh. He is a Son of Kenaz, a Gentile convert. His father is from the Exodus generation and even as a younger brother of Caleb, he passed during the 42 journeys. He must have been born in nthe desert as well. This is my opinion.
The above information comes from the following verses:
Joshua 15:13-17 - Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11 - 1 Chronicles 4:13
chanoch adds: i did not verify these verses.
The following is information from permutating Othiel and his name.
עתני = contemporary
ענת = Anat
תען = answer
תנע = momentum
נתע = we will move
נעת = We moved
בֶּן = son
נב = postscript
קנז = Kenz
קזן = Kazan
נקז = drain
נזק = damage
זקן = an old
זנק = jump
The gematria of Othaniel is 561 as well as 21 in the small Gematria
Other words in Torahb with gematria of 561 are:
והקמתי = and i set up
אדרשנו = we demanded
והעליתם = and you raised
לצאתם = to mgo out
נפלאת = wonderful and wonder of Schechina
ראשכם = your head
ונקתה = and cleaned
קנאתי = I was jealous
The small gematria condenses and thus conceals energy. Thus one must be careful when working with small mgematria. Othaniel as the second judge connects to Binah and the Name Ehyeh = I will be
The opening verses of our text paint a picture that is depressingly familiar to the modern Israeli. The generation that witnessed the heroic days of the miraculous conquest of the Land had passed, and a new generation arose that had not seen God's great work and they rebelled against Him (see Rashi on verse 1). Instead of enjoying peace and prosperity in the Land pursuing the Torah, they were forced to learn the art of warfare, just as in contemporary Israel , where the very flower of the country's youth are sacrificed on the altar of war.
Significantly the locations in the Promised Land over which the Israelites lost their hold as told in our present text (v. 3) correspond exactly to those that are the sorest trial for Israel until today. The "five officers of the Philistines" ruled over the "big five" Philistine cities, Ashdod , Gaza , Gath , Ashkelon and Ekron in the Mediterranean coastal region. The Sidonians and Hivites were dwelling in present-day Lebanon , southern Syria and the Golan Heights .
Were it not for the hostility of the Arab population to the Jews, it is very likely that much of today's secular Israeli population would have intermarried with the surrounding peoples just as the Israelites did after the death of Joshua (v. 6). Verse 7 adds a new element to the idolatry which the ancient Israelites adopted from their neighbors: the ASHEROT (not to be confused with the ASH-T-EROT in Judges ch 3). The ASHERA is a tree worshiped as a god: tree veneration is mentioned in the Torah (Deut. 16:21) as one of the idolatries practiced by the Canaanites. The prohibition of anything that comes from an Ashera tree recurs throughout the Shas and Poskim (Talmud and Codifiers). Significantly, the Kabbalah sees all worlds, revealed and concealed, as parts of the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Sefirot, yet the sages typify any kind of theology that splits off divine powers from one another as "uprooting saplings" (Chagiga 14b).
Kushan Rishathayim king of Mesopotamia, whom God sent to try Israel (v. 8), was an ideological as well as a physical enemy. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105b) states that this was none other than Bilaam-Laban (RISHATHAYIM means a DOUBLE wickedness) - i.e. the treacherous spirit of Laban the Aramean and his sorcerer offspring Bilaam reared its head and ruled again in the world. That Osniel ben Knaz had the power to overcome this attests to his great power. It is said that Osniel noted that God had said to Moses "I have surely seen (RA'OH RA-EESEE, the verb is doubled) the misery of My people" (Ex. 3:7). Osniel learned out from the doubling of the verb that God had already seen that the people would sin with the Golden Calf, yet He still had compassion on them. Osniel said, "Whether they are worthy or guilty, He is obliged to save them" (Rashi on v. 10). Let us turn this into our prayer today for contemporary Israel !
EGLON KING OF MOAB
After the death of Osniel, the people's sins caused Eglon king of Moab to gain ascendancy. Just as the Arameans of Kushan Rishathayim were relatives of the Israelites - being from the family of Abraham's brother Nachor - so too were the Moabites, who were descended from Abraham's nephew Lot , through his incestuous relation with his oldest daughter. Moab corresponds to the southern region of present-day Jordan east of the "Dead" Sea.
The capture by Moses of the territories of the Emorites east of the Jordan (who had previously taken over parts of Moab ) had driven a wedge between Moab and her sister nation to the north, Ammon (= Amman , capital of Jordan ), severely weakening Moab . Eglon took advantage of the moral deterioration of the Israelites to reassert Moabite sovereignty over the territories of Reuven, Gad and Menasheh east of the Jordan , thereby joining up with Ammon again and also with Israel 's implacable enemy Amalek (who dwelled in the wilderness areas south east and south west of the "Dead" Sea). Eglon even conquered Jericho , the "lock" of the Holy Land .
Given the choice of going right or left by Abraham, Lot had opted to go to the left (Genesis 13:9 ff). It is therefore significant that Ehud ben Gera used a "sinister" ploy to kill Eglon through the power of his LEFT HAND. Although from the tribe of Benjamin (BIN-YAMIN, "son of the RIGHT"), Ehud, like many other members of his tribe was LEFT-HANDED (cf. Judges 20:16. Rabbi Nachman, who discusses left-handedness in a number of places, notes that Benjamin corresponds to the Tefilin, and the Tefilin of the arm are worn on the LEFT arm - Likutey Moharan II, 77; see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom p. 293).
The small "sword that had two mouths" (v. 16) which Ehud made and hid on his right thigh under his clothes for surprise use against Eglon with his LEFT hand was none other than the Torah, which is called "a sword of mouths" (Psalm 149) because those who engage in its study eat in this world and in the world to come (Tanchuma).
Our rabbis note that when Ehud told Eglon "I have the word of God for you" (Judges 3:20), Eglon arose from his throne out of respect. "Said the Holy One, blessed be He, 'You accorded Me honor and rose from your throne for the sake of My glory. By your life, I will raise up a descendant from you whom I shall seat upon My throne, as it is said, And Solomon sat upon the throne of God as king'" (Ruth Rabbah 2:9). Eglon had two daughters: While Orpah was the mother of Goliath, Ruth became one of the most celebrated converts of all time and was the great grandmother of King David, father of Solomon.
It is noteworthy that in this roundabout way Ruth's conversion came about through Ehud, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, from which came Saul, the first king of Israel . Saul persecuted David, who was said to be not even Jewish since the Torah explicitly forbids a Moabite to enter the Assembly (Deut. 23:4). Only when the sages of the generation revived Samuel's Midrash that this does not apply to a MoabitESS was David accepted. Evidently left-handed, roundabout courses of events are part of the coming of Mashiach!!!
Just as Benjamin contributed Ehud ben Gera to the illustrious history of Israel's judges, so every one of the tribes of Israel contributed at least one judge, including Levi (Eli and Samuel), with the sole exception of Shimon, whose history of rebellion under Zimri ben Saloo in the time of Moses precluded the possibility of their producing a judge.
Judge Ehud Summary
Throughout the lives of these judges, the narrator tells us, Israel’s behavior follows a consistent pattern: the people of Israel fall into evil, God sends a leader to save them, and, once the judge dies, the people commit even greater evil. When the Israelites’ continued worship of the Canaanite gods leads to an invasion by the nation of Moab, God sends Israel a left-handed man named Ehud to be its deliverer. Ehud visits the Moabite king and offers to give the king a secret message from God. When the king dismisses his attendants, Ehud draws a sword strapped to his right thigh and plunges it into the obese king, killing him. Ehud escapes and leads the Israelites in regaining control of the Jordan River valley.
2. EHUD the son of Gera is the third judge. He is from the Tribe of BENJAMIN. He is described as being left handed. His full description in Hebrew is מוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-אֵהוּד בֶּן-גֵּרָא בֶּן-הַיְמִינִי, אִישׁ אִטֵּר יַד-יְמִינוֹ . The normal translation, which is a ncorruption in my nopinion, is "a saviour, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a man left-handed" Here is a more literal translation by chanoch: "a savior, Ehud + The Schechina, son who is almost a stranger or convert, son of the Tribe of Benjamin, a man opposite of his right hand". Below is a description of the story by Wikepedia.
According to Judges 3:12–30, Ehud was sent by the Israelites to the Moabite King Eglon on the pretext of delivering the Israelites' annual tribute. He made a double-edged shortsword about a cubit (eighteen inches) long, useful for a stabbing thrust. Being left-handed, he could conceal the sword on his right thigh, where it was not expected. Left handedness is significant because the left side of the body is often associated with deception or darkness, it is a tactical advantage in war against the majority who are often right-handed, and is symbolic for being outside of the culturally accepted social norm of leadership in ancient Israel.
Once they met, Ehud told Eglon he had a secret message for him. Eglon dismissed his attendants and allowed Ehud to meet him in private. The Hebrew for the location of the private meeting is בַּעֲלִיַּת הַמְּקֵרָה, (`BaAliyah Hameqerah), translated as cooling roof chamber, which was likely a bathroom given that the servants believed Eglon was relieving himself (v24). Ehud said, "I have a message from God for you", drew his sword, and stabbed the king in his abdomen. The Hebrew word for abdomen בְּבִטְנֽוֹ (beten), is the same word that is used for the womb of a woman. After Ehud stabbed the king, the end of Judges 3:22 reads in Hebrew וַיֵּצֵא הַֽפַּרְשְׁדֹֽנָה (yatsa' parshedon) usually translated as “and the dirt came out,” a phrase of uncertain meaning as it is only used once in the Hebrew Bible. “Dirt” could be translated as feces. The translations of the room, abdomen, and dirt lend to a translation that implies sexual undertones and feminizes Eglon, demeaning him to a lower status. The weaker Ehud overcame the stronger Eglon. After Ehud stabbed the king, the end of Judges 3:22 reads in Hebrew vayyetze hap-parshedonah, a phrase of uncertain meaning. The sword disappeared into the wound and Ehud left it there. He locked the doors to the king's chamber and left.
chanoch adds: A better translation for cooling roof chamber is "with an elevated immigrant". or a private secluded chamber. This has sexual inuendoes by some Biblical Scholars. Also dirt coming out relates to sword thrust that pierces the bowel or rectum.
Eglon's assistants returned when too much time had elapsed and found the doors locked. Assuming that he was relieving himself, they waited "to the point of embarrassment" before unlocking the door and finding their king dead.
Ehud escaped to the town of Seraiah in Ephraim. He sounded the shofar and rallied the Israelite tribes, who killed the Moabites, cutting off the fords of the Jordan River, and invaded Moab itself, killing about 10,000 Moabite soldiers.
chanoch adds: Remember in Hebrew large numbers are put in multiples of 10,000.
In Verse 31 the fourth judge is described. His name is שַׁמְגַּר בֶּן-עֲנָת = Shamgar the son of Anath. It is implied that he became famous in the war of Moab by lilling 600 men with an ox-goad. Thus he became ajudge and saved Israel. How the Torah does not describe.
Shamgar’s name in Hebrew likely means “sword.” He was the son of a man (or perhaps of a family group) named Anath meaning “answer” [i.e. an answer to prayer]. Taken together these provide a fitting name that links to his role, as a deliverer and judge (there are also possible overtones in his name to the Canaanite culture, which may indicate how Canaanized the Israelites had become).
Shamgar also means "Name of convert or stranger. Anath has gematria of 520, which is a connection to Malchut since isn 10 times 52. Students of Kabbalah know this connects to the completion of Malchut.
He is remembered for killing 600 Philistines. The Philistines consisted of a nation along the Mediterranean coast who had arrived in Canaan about the same time as Israel and represented a continual military threat until they were subdued by King David. In an impressive feat Shamgar was enabled by the LORD to strike down 600 Philistines using only a primitive weapon known as an oxgoad.
What is an oxgoad:?
An oxgoad, or simply a goad, is used with oxen as a prodding tool. Historic examples include those pointed with metal (or not) and also variants that had an additional point which curved backwards developed to maximize the drivers ability to poke the oxen.
Using only this everyday agricultural tool as a weapon, in one battle or perhaps as a tally of all of his encounters, he struck down 600 Philistines and thus provided a measure of deliverance for Israel (though the nature and extent of that deliverance is not presented).
The only other verse that adds information to this story comes in the song of Deborah who tells us that:
chanoch adds: another example of confusing historical events in the book of judges.
In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travellers kept to the byways. (Judges 5:6 ESV)
Life as Israel had known it, a life of peace and prosperity under the rule of and faithfulness to the LORD, had ceased. In its place had come national insecurity and distress.
What then are we meant to take away from these two verses about Shamgar? There are several possibilities but let me elaborate on just one of them.[i] Shamgar obviously did something very great in Israel to the extent that he was remembered as he was. The modest account we are left with struck me as a great reminder that our motivation to serve the LORD should not be to receive a lengthy entry into the annals of the faith but rather to please the LORD, irregardless of whether such service is acknowledged publically or not.
After the death of Eglon, the narrative reports that there was peace in the land for 80 years.
A certain "confusion" between right-handedness and left-handedness continues in Chapter 4: even Rabbi Chaim Vital, who wrote down the teachings of the ARI, states that he cannot remember if his master said that Yavin king of Canaan who ruled in Hatzor (Judges 4:2) was from the LEFT side, Imma-Binah (Yavin, "he will understand") or from the RIGHT side, Abba-Chochmah (YaVIN=72=Chochmah; see Sefer HaLikutim, Shoftim). In any event, ARI reveals that the root of KAYIN (Adam's first son), which derives from the GEVUROT of BINAH, descended into the unholy realm of the husks to manifest as the unholy DA'AS ("knowledge").
For this reason, Yavin's general was called SISERA: The two middle letters of his name are Samach (60)-Reish (200) = 260 = 26 x 10 = i.e. ten Havayot (Each HaVaYaH is one Tetragrammaton, in gematria = 26; HaVaYaH is Da'at, here spreading through all ten Sefirot). The remaining letters of SISERA are Samach (60), Yud (10) Aleph (1) making a total of 71, which is the sum of MaH (the "Milui" - filling of the letters -- of HaVaYaH, corresponding to Zeir Anpin = 45) plus Kaf-Vav (26=HaVaYaH). ARI states that Sisera alludes to the mystery of Daas of Zeir Anpin on the side of the Kelipot-husks (ibid).
The Midrash attributes enormous military resources to Sisera. Besides the 900 chariots of iron mentioned in our text (v. 13), "he brought 40,000 commanding officers each of whom had one hundred thousand men. Sisera was thirty years old and conquered the whole world. There was not a city whose wall he did not cause to fall through his roar. Even a wild animal that he roared at in the field would stand unable to move from its place. When he went to bathe in the River Kishon, he would come out of the water with his beard full of enough fish to feed many, many people." (Yalkut). All of this seems to be alluding allegorically to what the ARI expresses Kabbalistically through the use of Gematrias.
Given that, as ARI explains, this was on one level a war of spirit and ideology, it is interesting to note that the war actually took place in areas of Israel that many today find to be the most spiritual - the lower and upper Galilee . Yavin's Hatzor had been destroyed together with its king, also called Yavin, in the time of Joshua (ch. 11). Now, however, the new Yavin reasserted the Canaanite power, threatening the entire north and center of the Land: the territories of Ephraim, Zevulun and Naftali. With all the other tribes now settled in their respective inheritances, they were so preoccupied with their lives, farms etc. that they did not unite as in former times to help their threatened brothers.
The leader of the hour was the prophetess DEBORAH of the tribe of Ephraim. The Midrash states that she was exceptionally wealthy (Targum on Judges 4:5 teaches that the topography in this verse alludes not to places but to her sources of wealth, see Rashi ad loc.). ARI explains the topography spiritually: Devorah is rooted in MALCHUS, Her "husband" LAPIDOS (=flashing torches=BARAK=flash of lightening) is YESOD. The TOMER under which she modestly sits so as not to have YICHUD with the Israelites who come to consult her on Torah law also alludes to YESOD. It was "between RAMAH and BEIT EL" because BEIT EL is Leah who is RAMAH, "high up", the concealed world of BINAH. Thus we begin to see how it is that Devorah was part of the repair of the faulty world of Yavin-Daat of Kelipah.
"What was Devorah doing there judging Israel - wasn't Pinchas ben Elazar still alive? I BRING HEAVEN AND EARTH TO WITNESS: BE IT A GENTILE OR ISRAELITE, A MAN OR A WOMAN, A SLAVE OR MAIDSERVANT, ACCORDING TO A PERSON'S DEEDS, SO HOLY SPIRIT DWELLS UPON THEM. In the academy of Elijah it was taught that Devorah's husband was an ignoramus, but Devorah said to him, 'Go and make wicks for the lamp in the Sanctuary in Shilo and then your share will be among the righteous among them and you will come to the life of the world to come.' Thus he would make the wicks and he had three names: Lapidos, Barak and Michael." (Midrash Tanchumah). The concept of the wick of the lamp is bound up with Binah (see Likutey Moharan I:60 etc.).
The ten thousand men of Naftali and Zevulun that Barak brought against Sisera were nothing but small farmers - how were they to stand up against Sisera's hosts and his 900 iron chariots? Barak went to Mount Tabor to lure Sisera out against him, but Sisera was a wily general and knew that his chariots would be useless in the rocky terrain of the mountain. It was springtime, and he stayed down below in the valley of the upper Kishon, where he expected that his chariots would easily overcome the Israelites. (The River Kishon starts in the eastern Galilee and runs all the way through the Yezriel valley down to the Mediterranean Sea by Haifa ).
In the Song of Deborah (ch. 5) we learn that "from heaven they fought -- the very stars fought from their tracks with Sisera" (v. 20). (The initial letters of HAKOCHAVIM MIMESILOSOM NILCHAMU make up HaMaN, for the Divine victory over Sisera was the victory over the husk of Amalek, with which he was bound up. Amalek touts the Law of Nature, but God transcends nature.) How exactly did the very stars miraculously transcend the normal laws of nature to bring about the defeat the Canaanites? It is thought that the miracle consisted in a sudden, totally unexpected tornado sweeping in from the region stretching from the Rift Valley (ARAVA) to the Kinneret east of the Lower Galilee, bringing torrents of pelting rain that turned the Kishon Valley into a treacherous muddy bog that totally incapacitated the iron chariots of the Canaanites and swept them into the river, forcing Sisera to flee ignominiously. The miracle is not that there was a tornado - these occur periodically in this region - but that the tornado came exactly when it did (see Baal Shem Tov al HaTorah, Beshallach).
The other heroine of this story is YAEL, another of the outstanding converts of all time. The wife of the itinerant KEINI, she could have saved Sisera, let him lie with her in the tent and risen to "greatness". Instead she remained faithful to her husband, cleverly giving Sisera not the thirst-quenching waters of kindness but soporific milk, which caused him to doze off exhausted from the battle. She then took the tent peg and smashed his head. It was fitting that it should have been his brain that she dashed, since, as revealed by ARI, Sisera's hold was in the brain and mind (DAAT).
With the destruction of the unholy husk, the holy spark was released, and thus Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef came forth from the descendants of Sisera, just as Rav Shmuel bar Shilas came from those of Haman (ARI). Rabbi Chaim Vital concludes the ARI's Drash on Devorah by saying: "And my master told me that my soul was there too."
* * * The story of the destruction of Sisera's forces and Devora's song, Judges 4:4-24 and 5:1-31, is read as the Haftara of Parshas Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16 * * *
It was fitting that Devora should sing the song of victory over Sisera. DEVORA is from the root DAVAR, "word", as in DIBUR, "speech" (= Malchut, through which Godliness is revealed.) When speech rises to the level of song, speech is perfected through the musical notes of the melody (TA'AMEY HAMIKRA), which come from a higher level. Speech is from the Nefesh ego-soul (Malchut) while song is from the Neshamah-soul (Binah, Understanding). Understanding elevates speech.
Devorah's song was sixth of the ten great songs of history. They are listed in Targum on Shir HaShirim 1:1: Song of the Sabbath day at creation, Song at the Red Sea, Song over the well in wilderness (Numbers 21:17), Moses' song of Ha'azinu, "Hear O heavens."; Joshua's song that stopped the sun at Giv'on, Deborah's song, Hannah's song over the birth of Samuel, David's song over his victory over all his enemies, Solomon's Song of Songs and the Song of the future redemption. The Hebrew word for song is SHIR, linked to the root SHEIR, a "chain". A song is a chain of words and notes that give TA'AM -- deeper MEANING - to events and experiences that would otherwise seem disconnected. The song links everything together as part of God's symphony of creation: the melody is the song of His HASHGACHAH, His "providence" over every detail.
Deborah's song was sung with Holy Spirit. It is highly allusive, and we are in need of the commentators if we are to trace the multiple hints it contains. First among the commentators we need on any such a flighty, eloquent passage is the Aramaic Targum, which in translating simple narrative portions of NaCh is normally terse and direct, but which expands considerably on the meaning of many prophetic passages in order to explain them in greater depth. While the best known Aramaic Targum on the Five Books of Moses is that of Onkelos the Ger (Convert) our Aramaic Targum on the Prophets and Holy Writings was written by R. Yonasan ben Uzziel (who also wrote a Targum on Chumash, somewhat lengthier and with more midrash than that of Onkelos). R. Yonasan was the greatest of the students of Hillel - while Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, who went on to lead the Jewish people during and after the destruction of the Second Temple , is described by the Talmud as Hillel's "smallest" pupil. Given that Raban Yochanan knew all the secrets of the universe and even the "conversations of trees", it boggles the imagination to try to understand the level of R. Yonasan ben Uzziel, who was so devoted to the Torah that he never even married.
The Targum of Yonasan brings out various allusions in Deborah's song to past and future events in Israel 's history, including the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Giving of the Torah. The miracle that Deborah's generation witnessed whereby the overwhelming forces of Sisera and his allies were swept away by the River Kishon was seen as a miracle on the soil of the Holy Land that bore comparison with that of the splitting of the Red Sea in its significance for the nation and its survival. The Targum and Midrash state that at the time of the Giving of the Torah, Mt. Tabor and Mt. Carmel had come asking for the Torah to be given on them, but God decreed that it was to be given on the humble Mount Sinai in the Wilderness. Nevertheless, Tabor and Carmel were rewarded: Elijah performed the miracle of the consumption of his offering by heavenly fire on Mt. Carmel , while Mt. Tabor was the scene of the "Giving of the Torah" in the time of Deborah.
The song of Deborah (as explained by Targum, Rashi and the other commentators) portrays the dire state of Israel prior to the victory over Sisera. It had become impossible to travel the roads because of danger from the enemies; it was impossible even for the girls to go out to draw water from the wells; it was impossible to live in open, unfortified settlements - the Israelites had to take refuge behind walls! (See Targum and Rashi on vv. 6-7, v. 11.) The Israelites were faced with an "Intifada" from the Canaanites that made life impossible in the country, not unlike today.
The song also hints at the cracks of disunity among the tribes. Reuven in particular comes in for criticism (vv. 15-16) for sitting on the east of the Jordan telling Barak "we are on your side" and Sisera "we are on your side", waiting to see who would win (Targum). The tribe of Dan is also criticized for loading their possessions into boats on the River Jordan in order to escape (v. 17), and MEIROZ is severely cursed (v. 23) although there are different opinions as to whether this was a city, a prominent individual, or perhaps a star (Moed Katan 16a).
The greatest praise goes to YAEL, who became a Judge in her own right (Rashi on v. 6). "She is blessed more than women in the tent" (v. 24). This implies that she is compared favorably to the matriarchs Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, all of whom are described in the texts as being "in the tent".
How did Yael have the strength to kill a mighty warrior like Sisera. The Talmud states that her greatness lay in carrying out a sin for the sake of God (LISHMAH), which is greater than carrying out a mitzvah not for the sake of God (SHELO LISHMAH). The Talmud infers from v. 27 that Sisera had relations with her seven times, thereby exhausting all his strength and thus enabling her to kill him (Nazir 23b).
"Thus let all your enemies be destroyed. and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in its strength" (v. 31). On the latter part of the verse, the Talmud comments, "This verse refers to those who allow themselves to be insulted and do not insult back, who hear themselves abused and do not answer, who do what they do out of love and rejoice in suffering" (Yoma 23a). In time to come the light will be seven times seven the light of the seven days of creation - i.e. 343 times greater (7 x 7 x 7; see Rashi on this verse).
Her husband - Barak from Tribe of Naphtali
According to the Book of Judges, Deborah (Hebrew: דְּבוֹרָה= "bee"; was a prophetess of the God of the Israelites, the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel and the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. Many scholars contend that the phrase, "a woman of Lappidot", as translated from biblical Hebrew in Judges 4:4 denotes her marital status as the wife of Lappidot, or "Lappidoth" as listed in many Bible translations. Alternatively, "lappid" translates as "torch" or "lightning", therefore the phrase, "woman of Lappidot" could be referencing Deborah as a "fiery woman."
Deborah told Barak, an Israelite general from Kedesh in Naphtali, that God commanded him to lead an attack against the forces of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera (Judges 4:6–7); the entire narrative is recounted in chapter 4.
chanoch adds: What is truth? Barak might be Devorah's husband or not. He certainly became one although he is considered weak since he desired her to come with him to war.
Judges chapter 5 gives the same story in poetic form. This passage, often called The Song of Deborah, may date to as early as the twelfth century BCE, and is perhaps the earliest sample of Hebrew poetry.
The victory over Sisera brought relief to the Israelites but they did not take advantage of the victory to drive out the Canaanites and consolidate their hold on the Land. This gave the Midianites their opportunity to make ever more destructive predatory incursions. The Midianites, who were descended from Abraham's son from the "concubine" Ketura (Gen. 25:2), were a group of five clans, some shepherds, some traders and some of them marauding bandits, who lived as nomads across the vast stretch of desert east of Ammon and Moab (present day eastern Jordan and north west Saudi Arabia). They were sworn enemies of Israel (Numbers 25:18). The Israelite failure to drive out the Canaanites from their strongholds in the Jezreel valley enabled the Midianites to cross the Jordan river fords into the Land and establish a footing in the Beit She'an valley, from which they began attacking the tribes of the Galilee and advancing into the center of the country into the tribal areas of Ephraim and Menasheh.
"And Israel became very low" (vayiDAL, DAL = poor, wretched) (v. 6). "They were poor without good deeds. And they didn't even have the resources to bring a MINCHAH offering" (Tanchuma, Behar).
The prophet who came to reprove the people (verse 8) was according to tradition Pinchas ben Elazar.
Gideon was from the tribe of Menasheh, from that half of the tribe that had settled in the Land itself. The town of "Ofra" in which he lived is not to be confused with Ofra north of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin , an important settlement until today. RaDaK on verse 11 states that Gideon's Ofra was a town of the same name further to the north: it was probably a little to the south west of Shechem ( Nablus ).
The Zohar (I, 254) states that Gideon was not a tzaddik, nor the son of a tzaddik, but that he merited his role as savior because he spoke in defense of Israel (see Rashi on v. 13).
The depiction of Gideon helping his father to beat and sift wheat in a wine vat out of fear of the Midianites shows the dire state of affairs in Israel . According to the Midrash, Gideon said he would do all the work so that his father could go to hide from the Midianites, and it was for this act of filial piety that he was worthy of the visit from the angel (v. 11).
Our commentators make no effort to identify the angel with any human. It is clear from the text that this was a spiritual messenger from God who appeared to Gideon when he was in a state of prophecy (see RaDaK on v. 9).
From Gideon's sacrifice of MATZOT before the angel, we learn that it was Pesach (Rashi on v. 19). According to tradition, Gideon had heard his father recounting the miracles of the Exodus at the Pesach Seder and said to God, "If our ancestors were Tzaddikim, then save us in our merit, and if they were wicked, then just like you did wonders for them for free, so too perform wonders for us - WHERE ARE ALL HIS WONDERS THAT OUR FATHERS TOLD US???"
Gideon's smashing of the Baal-idol is reminiscent of Abraham's smashing the idols of his father Terach as told in the famous midrash. His father Joash's challenge to the men of the city that Baal himself should avenge those who broke his statue is somewhat reminiscent of Abraham's mocking answer to Terach when asked how the idols were smashed and he said that the biggest idol smashed all the others.
When Gideon sacrificed to God on an altar built from the stones of the altar to Baal and with vessels and fuel taken from the Ashera tree, eight Torah prohibitions were temporarily suspended to enable him to do so: (1) sacrificing outside the sanctuary (2) at night (3) by a non-Cohen (4) using vessels of an Ashera, which is forbidden for benefit even for a mitzvah (5) using the stones of an idolatrous altar (6) using the wood of the Ashera for fuel; (7) sacrificing an animal set aside as an offering to an idol - the fattened ox (8) sacrificing an animal that had been worshipped - the other ox (Temura 28b). "It is time to do for the Lord, they have broken (HEIFEIROO, = "you should break") Your Torah" (Psalms 119:126).
Even though Gideon was obliged to perform his revolutionary, iconoclastic mission at nighttime because of fear of repercussions from the local bastions of political correctness, his heroic act was the beginning of a sweeping movement of repentance from idolatry that led to victory over the Midianites. As soon as one simple Israelite was willing to get up and shatter the gods of political correctness, the redemption could take place.
If Gideon believed in God, why did he ask for a SECOND sign after God had already performed a patent miracle in drenching the fleece with dew when everything around was dry (vv. 36-40)? RaDaK (on v. 39) points out that "You shall not try the Lord" (Deut 6:16) but answers in the name of R. Saadia Gaon that it was not that Gideon had any doubt about God's ABILITY to save Israel. To test God would be to say "Prove that you can do it". But what Gideon wanted was reassurance about whether he himself was worthy to be the channel for such a great miracle.
We can learn from Gideon that even a simple person can merit God's communicating with him directly and using him as the instrument of His redemption, all through the power of simple mitzvoth, good deeds and love of the people of Israel.
The magnitude of the challenge facing Gideon must be reconstructed from hints scattered through our text. The marauding Midianites with their Amalekite and other allies, the "Children of the East" (ch 7 v 12), numbered one hundred and thirty-five thousand warriors (ch 8 v 10) -- over four times as many as Gideon's 32,000 - the great majority of whom proved to be too afraid to go out to battle (ch 7 v 3). The Midianites were encamped in the western corner of the Beit Shean valley between the protruding spurs of Giv'at Hamoreh with Mt. Tabor behind it to their north and Mt. Gilboa to the south. They had watchmen posted on the hills (ch 7:2 see Targum/RaDaK). Gideon had rallied Naftali and Asher, the tribes of the Galilee, to Mt. Tabor , intending that they should attack the Midianites on their northern flank, while he himself was waiting for reinforcements to come up from his own tribe of Menasheh in the south in order to advance northwards from Gilboa to attack the Midianites on their southern flank. However, the plan for a pincer attack failed because the hoped for reinforcements from Menasheh did not arrive in time, and from ch 8 vv. 18-19 we learn that the Midianites succeeded in routing the northern tribes on Mt Tabor under the leadership of Gideon's brother, whom they killed.
Thus Gideon was left with no more than ten thousand men to stand against the vast army of invading hordes from the east. Yet even Gideon's 10,000 were far too many for God, Who wanted to teach that Israel does not need great numbers in order to accomplish His purpose, "lest Israel boast against Me saying 'my own hand saved me'" (verse 2). God does not need numerical advantage for His victories. For "not because of your multitude out of all the peoples did the Lord desire you and chose you, for you are the small minority out of all the peoples" (Deut. 7:7).
What counts for God is true devotion and righteousness. Gideon showed outstanding faith and courage in sending away all but the 300 tzaddikim who, rather than fall down on their knees like Baal-worshippers in order to plunge their faces into the stream to slake their desperate thirst, preferred to draw up the water with their hands and bring it up to their mouths with dignity. DEREKH ERETZ ("the way of the land", "good manners") comes even before the Torah. "And his HAND was FAITH" (Exodus 17:12). Instead of greedily bending down and swallowing what they needed to take from the world, they drew it to themselves through the hand of FAITH and PRAYER.
Why was kneeling down by the water the sign of an idolater? RaDaK (on v 4) brings an illuminating midrash that says that the people of that generation used to kneel down and bow down TO THEIR OWN REFLECTIONS - i.e. they were filled with narcissistic pride. (Do we too look too much in the mirror?) Self-love with the accompanying craving for kudos were the fatal flaws that subsequently led to so much strife between Gideon and Ephraim, the men of Succoth and Penu-el (ch 8) and eventually to the downfall of Gideon's own dynasty (ch 9).
Man's egotistical pride is precisely what the Omer barley offering brought in the Temple on the second day of Pesach, 16 th of Nissan, comes to rectify. We have already seen (ch 6 v 19) that Gideon's smashing of the idols took place on the first day of Pesach. He "rose early in the morning" (ch 7 v 1) and advanced all day, dispatching all who were unworthy to take part in the miracle. It was thus on the eve of the 16 th Nissan that God told him to go down to spy on the Midianite camp, and they were routed that night.
The Midianite man's dream about the coal-baked cake of barley that rolled through and overturned the Midianite camp alludes to the merit of the small Omer-measure of Barley offered by Israel (Rashi on v. 13). The Omer offering, which initiates the harvest season, is a kind of national Sotah (unfaithful wife) offering to propitiate God for apparent disloyalty. The only two grain offerings in the Temple that had to be of barley and not wheat were the Omer and Sotah woman's offerings. Barley is normally for animal consumption. Offering barley on the Altar signifies man's repentance for having succumbed to his animal instincts. RaDaK relates the unusual word TZLIL referring to the barley cake (TZLIL is the KRI, the way the word is to be READ) to TZLIL meaning a "noise", alluding to the tumult in the camp that the barley-cake brought in its wake. However, the Midrash darshens the KSIV - the word as WRITTEN in the parchment scroll, TZALOOL - as indicating that the generation was TZALOOL, "strained off" of all Tzaddikim (see Rashi on v 13 and Vayikra Rabba 28:6). Practically no-one was left except Gideon's tiny band. Even so, they saw victory through their humble faith and their confidence that even in their degradation and smallness, their repentance could bring God to perform miracles for them.
The Shofars and Torches that were their only military "equipment" came to arouse the merit of the Giving of the Torah, which was accompanied by the blast of the shofar, thunder and lightning (Rashi on v 16). From the point of view of psychological warfare, the idea was to surround the Midianites and make them think that they were in the middle of a surprise night-time ambush on all sides by a vast Israelite army.
Thus God showed that one man's dream could throw an entire army into a state of such demoralization that an ingenious display of night-time fireworks with accompanying Shofar-blowing could send them all into flight. The defeat of the Midianites came about not through numbers but all through the power of the spirit.
The Midianites fled southwards along the western bank of the River Jordan, hoping to cross over the river fords into Ammon in order to escape eastwards to their home territories in the Arabian desert .
God's miraculous defeat of the Midianites and their allies is celebrated in Psalm 83 (particularly vv. 10-12). The lesson that comes forth from the narrative in our text in Judges is that the vital flaw of pride and arrogance, together with the internecine rivalry to which it leads, still prevented the Israelites from uniting under a messianic king whose goal would be not his own personal glorification and that of his dynasty but only the sanctification of God's great Name. It would take generations before the nation was ready for a true king of Israel .
י עֲשֵׂה-לָהֶם כְּמִדְיָן; כְּסִיסְרָא כְיָבִין, בְּנַחַל קִישׁוֹן.
10 Do Thou unto them as unto Midian; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook Kishon;
יא נִשְׁמְדוּ בְעֵין-דֹּאר; הָיוּ דֹּמֶן, לָאֲדָמָה.
11 Who were destroyed at En-dor; they became as dung for the earth.
יב שִׁיתֵמוֹ נְדִיבֵימוֹ, כְּעֹרֵב וְכִזְאֵב; וּכְזֶבַח וּכְצַלְמֻנָּע, כָּל-נְסִיכֵימוֹ.
12 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and like Zebah and Zalmunna all their princes;
Gideon himself showed himself largely free of this pride: he eloquently dissipated a potential conflict with the Ephraimites by humbly offering them the kudos, but he was faced with excessive mean-mindedness from the men of Succoth and Penu-el, whose refusal to assist him in his efforts against the common enemy is reminiscent of Naval's later refusal to help David. Succoth and Penuel are east of the River Jordan near the Adam Bridge in the valley of the River Yabok. Penu-el had been the site of Jacob's encounter with the angel prior to his confrontation with Esau (Genesis 32:31) while Succoth was where Jacob subsequently built a house for himself and "tabernacles" for his animals (ibid. 33:16). Perhaps the severe reprisals which Gideon the Judge meted out against the men of Succoth and Penu-el were intended to eradicate the animalistic Esau-trait that their meanness betrayed.
The remaining forces of Midian and their allies succeeded in reaching KARKOR, which is about 200 km. EAST of the River Jordan. There they thought they would be safe from Gideon, yet he succeeded in capturing their kings and routing the entire camp.
The final destruction of the Midianites by a scion of the tribe of Menasheh was fitting since it was the Midianites who had purchased Menasheh's father Joseph from his brothers and sold him to the Egyptians (Genesis 37:28 & 36). Gideon refused the Israelite offer to be their king with a dynasty of his own offspring as kings after him: he understood that Israel was not yet ready for a king. Instead he took a rich share of the booty captured from the Midianites, who in v. 24 are referred to as Ishmaelites since as a son of Ketura (=Hagar) Midian was Ishmael's brother and came under his wing. The splendid gold necklaces and ornaments of the Midianite hosts indicate pride. Gideon's receiving the Midianite booty was perhaps a "repayment" for the sale of Joseph, his ancestor, but could he rectify the pride?
Why did Gideon make himself an EPHOD? The EPHOD is one of the eight garments of the High Priest (Exodus 28:6 ff). Gideon had indeed, although not a COHEN, served as "High Priest" when he broke down the altar of Baal and sacrificed to HaShem. However, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 45) explains that he had a particular motive in making an EPHOD for himself. On the CHOSHEN MISHPAT, the breast-plate of the High Priest worn with the EPHOD, there were twelve stones corresponding to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But because one of the stones was for Levi, it was impossible to have more than one stone for the tribe of Joseph even though it had become two, with Ephraim and Menasheh. Since Ephraim was the natural leader of Joseph there was apparently no stone in the High Priest's breastplate for Gideon's tribe of Menasheh. Since the twelve stones correspond to the twelve constellations (MAZALOT), it was as if Menasheh had no MAZAL, and this was why Gideon made the EPHOD. If MAZAL means "luck" (well, kind of), Gideon's EPHOD proved to be very luckless, for although he intended it for the sake of heaven, this symbol of "his" victory over the Midianites became a stumbling-block for Israel as they turned it into a cult object, and although Gideon himself enjoyed a good old age, his success in weaning the Israelites from idolatry were thus short-lived.
chanoch adds: The Ephod will be replaced with 13 stones since we know now - 3000 years later - there are 13 signs of the zodiac.
May God save us from pride and unholy rivalry and bring us to the humility that will enable us to be worthy of His victory over our enemies despite our tiny numbers and their overwhelming force.
chanoch adds: When will our Rabbi's learn to trust the children of Israel, that we are ready to follow HaShem even when we are a small unified whole that is connected to HaShem. We are nothing except with HaShem. Yet we will become honored by all nations and people when we are with HaShem.
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