Susan Barth
Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

An Unsung Heroine and an Evil Villainess – Shaping our Destiny

The Chanukah story and the triage of Torah portions dealing with the Joseph story feature two women -one, an unsung heroine, and the other, an evil villainy. These women emerge out of the respective historical periods as players who have shaped our destiny as a people. Ironically each involved a type of seduction – one for a completely holy intention and the other for a nefarious purpose. And each one played a unique role in the annals of Jewish history.

Who were these women?

The Unsung Heroine is Yehudis

The Evil Villainess is Potiphar’s wife


Yehudis – a Chanukah Heroine for the Ages

It is fair to say that the defeat by the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days are the major headlines that we associate with the story of Chanukah. But somewhat buried in the fine print is the incredible story of Yehudis who used her feminine ingenuity to help change the fortunes of war for the beleaguered Israel nation.

According to the article entitled Yehudis by Nissan Mindel, this powerhouse woman, who was the daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol  (and father of the Hasmonean family)  and a young widow herself, singlehandedly turned what would have been a crushing defeat and slaughter of the Jewish inhabitants of the town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea, by Holofernes, a mighty Syrian-Greek general, at the head of a huge army, into a stunning victory.

This brave woman, who some claim as the aunt of Judah Maccabee, refused to allow her fellow townspeople to surrender to the Greek general by devising a daring plan to “seduce” the general into believing that she was his new found confidant for betraying her people when the General was planning his extinction of the town by starvation. By winning his confidence and allowing the general to think she was a traitor, he allowed her full access to his “royal tent” and freedom to come and go into the enemy base as she desired.

And hence, according to the famous commentator Rashi on the Talmud Gemara Tractate of Shabbos (23a), Yehudis fed the Greek general cheese to increase his thirst, and then gave him wine to drink until he became inebriated. She then cut off his head, and this sight caused the enemy soldiers to flee.

And as Rashi continues, this woman served as an instrument of the miraculous deliverance. Interestingly enough, Yehudis’s courage actually contributed to the cessation of the decree that every virgin bride must first submit to the local Greek commander, making women also victims of the cruelty of the Greeks.


Potiphar’s Wife – The Evil Villainess

The captivating triage of Torah portions which juxtapose with the Chanukah season feature the trials and tribulations of Joseph.  In last week’s Torah portion of Vayeishev, Chapter 10 verses 7 – 19, we are introduced to the wife of Joseph’s master Potiphar.

According to the biblical text, this unnamed wife cast her eyes on Joseph and waged what could be considered an all-out campaign to seduce Joseph and entice him to have forbidden relations with her.  Day after day she pursued a relentless effort to force Joseph to concede to her wishes. And in true evil fashion, she used his final rejection to her overtures  as the catalyst for changing the story and having Joseph indicted and sentenced to ten years of prison service in the dungeons of the Pharaoh.

In an ironic twist of fate, this one act of cowardice and evil plot hatched by Potiphar’s wife changed our destiny by having Joseph be in the perfect place to be catapulted from prison to the second in command position in the court of Pharaoh. And the rest is history as they say.


The Role of the Righteous Women

Yehudis earned her place among the other historical legendary heroines including Miriam, sister of Moshe, and Esther in the Purim story. Each of these woman in their respective historical time periods can be credited with saving our people from certain destruction at the hands of our vicious enemies.

As a historical footnote related to the observance of Chanukah, the feat of Yehudis is cited for the obligation of women to light Chanukah Candles. Also, women are encouraged to actually refrain from working for the first half hour while the candles are burning. Since the miraculous victory came about through the heroic actions of Judith, the women of the ages felt a special affinity to the Chanukah lights and sought to honor them in the greatest way possible.[1]

The Jewish woman has a unique mission specific to her special qualities and sensitivities. The very future of the Jewish people depends on her success.

The significant role which women play can be seen in this video entitled:

The Jewish Woman: In light of the Rebbe’s teachings

As the season of Chanukah shows, the darkness and evil which Potiphar’s wife tried to impose with her pursuit of Joseph can be overcome with the miraculous light which Yehudis brought with her conviction and dedication to the perpetuation of our people and our miracles continue every day.

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah.

[1] Mateh Moshe 994, quoted by the Magen Avraham 670:1

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education