215/929. Unlikely Heroes. Shoftim 4.

A cripple. Two women, one a  non-Jew. An outcast. The son of a prostitute. An intermarried vigilante. Israel, meet your unlikely heroes.

When the Jewish people’s regular cadre of leaders fail to provide adequate national solutions, God needs to draw on the fringes of society to bring salvation. When Devorah calls to Barak, she is only telling him to do the work that he should have been doing already. “Has not God commanded you to pull the people to Mount Tabor?” The command she is referring to, the Midrash explains, was the command to defeat the enemy given to Moshe, passed on to Yehoshua, and still left incomplete. The leadership, despite its best efforts, have left the people in a situation of such chaos and insecurity that people can’t walk the streets safely (see chapter 5:6).  It is left to the “volunteering nation”, God bless them, to provide solutions.

But do the solutions provided by these fringes, these volunteers, meet the standards we’d expect from our leaders? Does Ehud’s trickery, or Yael’s seduction and murder of a sleeping man, stand up to our moral expectations? Are the tactics of Gidon, or of Shimshon, the highest expression of Jewish ethics of war? Unsurprisingly, no. When it is ordinary people who must volunteer to fill the void, we can only expect ordinary answers, and ordinary answers tend to be morally messy.

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This is a blog following the daily study of Tanach along with the wonderfully challenging 929 project. Learn more about it at 929.org.il

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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