Judge! Song of Devora

Devora (Deborah) was a charismatic, inspiring prophetess, judge, poetess and military leader and strategist who lived in approximately 1200 BCE, at the beginning of the Iron Age. Her story is told in the book of Shoftim (Judges), chapters 4-5. Chapter 4 is the prose description of what ensued during her reign, and Chapter 5, commonly known as Shirat Devora (the Song of Deborah) is the poetic version, partly sung by Devora herself and partly by Barak, her lead general. It is considered by scholars to be a magnificent work of literature.

Before and during the times of Devora, for a period of twenty years, the Canaanites, under the direction of King Yavin, who lived in Hatzor, in the northern part of Israel, greatly oppressed the Jewish people. The Jews could not travel the roads safely, and they were plagued with taunting and with raids and attacks by Canaanite forces. Previously, some of the Jews had begun to adopt Canaanite customs, including the worshipping of idols.

Devora was an anomaly, as she was accepted by all the people as judge and prophet, in spite of her being a woman. She sat under a palm tree between Rama and Beit-El, in the hill country of Ephraim, issuing legal decisions and teaching the laws of the Tora. By the time she began to serve, the Jews had been in the process of setting aside their idol-worship. She is called “the wife of Lapidot”, which some interpret to mean that she was married to a man named Lapidot (the interpretation we have adopted for this play) and others interpret as meaning that she was a woman of “torches” (lapidot), i.e., of fiery inspiration and talent (characteristics with which we have also imbued her). There is an interpretation that Lapidot and Barak were one and the same; we have left them as two distinct individuals, as indicated by the pshat (straightforward meaning) of the text. She was a woman of wealth, who owned orchards and property, who drew no pay for her service.

Devora’s prophecy indicated that the Jewish people must go to war against Yavin in order to free themselves of his tyranny, and to release from his hold the final areas of the land that were promised to the Israelites, and that were still under the control of the Canaanites.

Devora called to Barak, of the tribe of Naftali, to go up to the top of Mount Tavor, knowing that Yavin would send his forces, and his general, Sisera, would be lured to the valley below to wait for them. Barak wanted Devora to accompany him. She warned him that if she went, the people would say the “G-d will deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman.” However she went with him to direct the Israelites to victory.

Barak rushed down Mt. Tavor, leading his army of Zevulun and Naftali, of only 10,000 men against tens of thousands of men on the side of Sisera, and 900 iron chariots. This leap of faith, compared by the commentators to that of Nachshon, who jumped into the sea before it split, inspired courage and faith in his troops and they plunged down after him. The tribes of Naftali and Zevulun were joined by the tribe of Yisachar in the Yizre’el Valley. Other tribes who came were Ephraim, Binyamin and Machir, one of the families of the tribe of Menashe.

G-d sent a miraculous downpour which caused the Kishon River to rise up and bog down the soldiers of Sisera, and their 900 chariots, in mud, enabling the Israelites to kill them. Sisera’s forces were swept away in the Kishon River.

Sisera escaped and made his way to the tent of Yael, whose husband, Hever, was an ally of Yavin. Yael lured him to sleep with warm milk and then killed him by plunging a tent peg into his forehead. Barak, seeking Sisera, in order to finish him off, found his way to the tent of Yael, where she showed him what she has done, thusly fulfilling the prophecy of Devora — that Sisera would fall at the hand of a woman.

Sisera’s mother sang a lament as she awaited his return, through whose cruel words we discover that she was no less ruthless than her son.

Devora and Barak sang a song of praise to G-d and to those who joined the battle. In her song, Devora was critical of three of the tribes who could have come but did not, the message being that brethren should not have to be summoned to help their people. We are told at the end of Chapter 5 that, subsequently, the land had rest for forty years.

May it be so in our day.

Cast

Abelow, Debbie
Aziz Felicity
Bedell Fayge
Ben Michael Shir
Berman, Gayle — DEVORA
Daniel Batya
Daniel Shira
De Vriend Netta
Englard Zahava – IRON MAIDEN
Epstein Varda — HEVER
Frankel Rivi — LAPIDOT
Friedburg Galya
Friedburg Linda
Gelb Heather
Glassman Aliza
Golbert Meira
Golbert Sophia
Goldberg Avigayil
Goldstein, Semadar
Greenberg Zahava
Greenwald, Toby
Holland Esti
Holland Ma’ayan
Hyman Bella
Karpel Aviva
Karpel Michal
Kass Ya’ara
Katz Sharon – MOTHER OF SISERA
Kolet Tsipora – MOTHER OF YOUNG DEVORA
Krell Elisheva
Kronenberg, Maayan
Lapidus Chaya – BAT KOL (SINGER OF PSUKIM)
Lawi Deena — BARAK
Macales Avital — YAEL
Millo Rinat Tal
Richter Roni
Roskin Lessa
Rubin Tammy
Shochat Debbie
Solomon Sheryl
Spitz Eudice
Taragin Temima
Valier Yael — SISERA
Winiarz Haya
Winiarz Racheli – YOUNG YAEL
Yarmish Yael – YOUNG DEVORA
Zeff Donna
Zeller, Chana Sara
Zinger Bayla – MOTHER OF YOUNG YAEL
Zelda Rubin – Head Usher
Valerie Pessin – tickets

Production

Written by Toby Klein Greenwald and Yael Valier

Music composed and arranged by Mitch Clyman
Director: Toby Klein Greenwald
Music Director: Gayle Berman
Choreographer: Sara Orenstein
Production Manager: Eudice Spitz
Senior Production Advisor: Sharon Katz
Asst. Director: Yael Valier
Production and Musical Assistant: Avital Macales
Dance Assistant: Batya Daniel
Make-up Captain: Zohar Mendelson
Mike Captain: Hilary Grossman
Costume Captains: Debra Walk, Toby Klein Greenwald
Costume Coordinator: Meira Golbert