Sometimes in life, there are battles to be fought. Some of these take place on a national level, others on a personal level. Most armies train their soldiers to view those on the other side of the battlefield as less-than-human. That’s not our approach.
After being led into Canaan under the leadership of Yehoshua, the Children of Israel have been living in the Promised Land for some time, but many areas remain in the hands of the Canaanites. The time is now ripe to drive out Sisera’s army from their midst. Devorah, the prophetess and judge of the people, calls upon her commander, Barak, and instructs him to take the men out to battle. “I shall only go if you accompany me,” he replies.
Sure enough, the Israelites vanquish the Canaanite army. Sisera, however, escapes from the battlefield and seeks a hiding place to disappear until he can escape. He chances upon the tent of Yael and asks her to hide him. Yael invites him in, but then, after lulling him to sleep, ends his life.
Following the great victory, Devorah sings a song of thanksgiving. In her song, she highlights how Sisera would not be returning home from the battlefield that day.
“Through the window the mother of Sisera looked forth and wept by the portal. Why does his chariot tarry, why are the hoof sounds delayed?”
Sometimes in life, there are battles to be fought. Some of these take place on a national level, others on a personal level. The song of Devorah offers us a profound insight into the way we must go to war and deal with those on the other side of the battlefield. Most armies train their soldiers to view those on the other side of the battlefield as less-than-human.
That’s not our approach. When Devorah sings her victory song, she takes a moment to think about Sisera. Her enemy, yes. But also a fellow human being. True, we had to stop him dead in his tracks so that we wouldn’t be destroyed, but we take a moment to remember that even Sisera, no doubt, has a family waiting for him back home. The consequences of his death have an impact way beyond his individual physical space.
War is not pretty. Sometimes it’s necessary, but, says Devorah, let’s not glorify it. The casualties of the battle – far and wide – are innumerable. It’s easy to dismiss the ‘other’ when we demonize them and treat them as mere objects. Devorah teaches us to view everyone, first and foremost, as fellow human beings. To remember that they are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, spouses, sons, daughters, siblings. Whatever happens now is going to impact many other people who are not present right here and now.
Indeed, we must be concerned for the casualties of battles and disputes that take place, not only on a grand national and international level, but throughout our lives. Maybe you have a work colleague that you’ve upset. You tell yourself that it’s no big deal, they’ll get over it. But then they go home and let out their frustration on their spouse or children.
Or, perhaps, you’ve allowed someone to be embarrassed publicly. You figure that the person deserved the way that he was treated. But we forget that the person has a spouse and children who are also going to suffer embarrassment on account of the incident. We have to be so careful and think about the repercussions, not only for present company, but for any innocents who might be collateral damage from our behavior.
The Israeli Defense Force prides itself on being the most moral army in the world. When it wants to attack Hamas, it first air-drops leaflets warning people to clear out of the area so that they won’t be innocent casualties. May you always give great consideration to the reverberations of all your actions and to everyone who might be impacted by your decisions!
Excerpted and adapted from The Transformative Daf: Rosh Hashanah