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Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

Who is Truly Worthy of Leadership? (Judges 4:4-5:31)

Devorah was an anomaly for the rabbinic tradition. While the Talmud acknowledged a list of women whom it considered prophets (See Megillah 14a), to our knowledge, only Devorah seems to have fulfilled the broader role of prophet, leader and judge: “And Devorah, wife of Lappidot, was a prophet-woman, she it was who judged (led) Israel at that time.” (4:4) Today, we would not consider this phenomenon at all unusual, but this certainly was not the rule in earlier times. It is interesting to examine how rabbinic sources viewed what made Devorah exceptional.

The following midrash from Eliyahu Rabbah, a ninth century moralistic work, was typical of this genre: “What characterized Deborah that she judged Israel and prophesied regarding them? Wasn’t Pinhas ben Elazar (the high priest) still around? I bring heaven and earth to bear witness upon me, that whether among man or woman, among slave or maidservant, the Holy Spirit rests upon them according to their deeds. They said: ‘Devorah’s husband was a common man (uneducated).’ She said to him: ‘Come let us make lamp wicks and go to the sanctuary in Shiloh. This way you will counted among other good people and you will have a place in the world to come.’ So, he made thick wicks, so that they might provide much light (that is why he was called ‘Lappidot’ – torches). She said to him: ‘Since you did your work sincerely and made thick wicks so that they should provide people with lots of light, may there be many like you be in Judea, Israel and among all of the twelve tribes!’ Who prompted Lappidot to be so good and special that he should merit a place in the world to come? They say: ‘It was Devorah, his wife.’ Regarding her and those like her and those who do deeds like hers, it is said: ‘The wisest of women builds her house.’ (Proverbs 14:1)” (adapted from Eliyahu Rabbah, Ish Shalom ed. 10)

Devorah, as described in this midrash, was uniquely gifted in being able to bring out the best qualities in people. She inspired her husband to turn his efforts to a good cause, one which benefited others and enhanced his own life in the process. For the authors of this midrash, these special qualities qualified her to be a prophet and leader as well as a role model worthy of emulation.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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