For the week of January 26, 2002 / 13 Shevat 5762
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 4:4 - 5:31

Men and Women

"Very well," Devorah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman" (Shoftim / Judges 4:9).

One of the most fundamental human relationships is the one between men and women. But like all of our relationships, we have struggled to find our way in this. According to the Torah, humans were created male and female for two reasons. First, there is something about the sexes that has to do with God's image (Bereshit / Genesis 1:27). Second, no other creature in the world was found suitable as a true companion for the man, except for the woman (Bereshit / Genesis 2:20-22).

These two aspects show us how essential the man-woman relationship is to our lives. Yet instead of being the kind of companions we were meant to be, we have often struggled one with another.

We are not going to provide a thorough examination of this issue here, but what I would like to do is look at the comment I quoted from this week's Haftarah and see how it can help us gain some biblical perceptive as to this very important relationship.

The context of this verse is that of a man named Barak, who was chosen by God to conquer the Canaanites (Judges 4:2-7). This was during the time before Israel had kings, when "Judges" called by God led the people.

The Judge at this time was a prophetess by the name of Devorah (English: Deborah) (4:4). It was through her that God's directions were given to Barak.

Barak's response was that he would only do what God said if Devorah accompanied him. Otherwise he would not (4:8). It was to this response that Devorah said,

I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman (4:9).

Clearly there is a negative tone to her words. Because of how Barak was handling this, the honor of defeating the army commander, Sisera, would be given to a woman. This woman was not Devorah, by the way, but a woman named, Jael (4:21).

It seems that Devorah's statement to Barak is not just about the honor being given to another person instead of himself, but that the honor would be given to a woman.

It is important to see first of all that this story is not negative on women. Far from it. Devorah is God's spokesperson here, and there is not a single criticism about that at all. The account of Jael killing the Canaanite army commander is also told without any surprise that a woman would do such a thing. I have been told that it was the women who used to put up the tents, which would explain why Jael was so effective with a tent peg.

It is not the place of women that is being addressed here. It is the place of men. Barak had been told by God to fight the Canaanite army, but he put a condition on it:

If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go (4:8).

It is not a good idea to put conditions on God's directives.

For some reason, for the most part throughout history God, has placed the call to leadership on men. It has been an exception for women to lead in this way.

When men fail to answer this call, honor which could have been theirs is lost. Thankfully women have tended to pick up the slack when men have failed to do fulfill their God-given roles. But there is an honor which God give to those men who courageously answer his call.

I wonder how much of the struggle between men and women actually comes from men's fear to fully obey God.

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