What is the prototype Jewish woman? Well, in Judaism, it embraces all middos (character traits) as long as they are used correctly. Yet, we do have our imohos (matriarchs) who all seem to exemplify traits that all women (and men) can learn from. There is Sara (Sarah) the Educator, the ultimate Hostess and the one with Binah Yesairah (intuition). Rivka (Rebbecca) comes along to show that same intuition; she also shows chesed (loving kindness) and gevorah (standing up for what is right). The twins, Rochel (Rachel) and Leah, come with their own traits. Rochel teaches us loyalty, self-sacrifice, the ability to keep silent when accused unjustly, and Leah shows us to be thoughtful, (not wanting to have more than six sons, knowing that if she has more, than one of Yaakov’s other wives will get less), she shows us how to daven, and how the Gates of Heaven are never closed for tears.
But then we have other women, who come upon the Tanach stage, who seem to go against the mould of the more gentle heroines of Tanach. While the matriarchs mentioned above all were considered the epitome of modesty, but there is another woman mentioned for being in a greater than those in the tent, as it is said in the song of Devorah (Deborah) from
Shoftim (Judges) 5:24-27 and is as follows:
Most blessed of women is Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead.
What is the story behind this? This section of Shoftim is very “girl powered”. We have Devorah, who is the judge and, now Yael. Yabin, the King of Canaan, was defeated in battle by Barack (husband of Devorah). He sought refuge in the tent of Heber the Kenite, who was on good terms with King Yabin. To his luck, only Yael was home. He asked for water, yet Yael gave him milk (which makes one tired). Then, she took her tent peg in one hand, the hammer, etc.
So, even though she killed a man, she was still praised. This shows you how she did it “Lesheim Shamayim” (for the sake of heaven). No woman wants to kill, unless she was doing so for Hashem. After all, Yabin had persecuted the Jews for the past 20 years.
Another woman who killed someone, is Yehudis (Judith). The original Hebrew source for this story has been lost, so there are various accounts of what happened. It was a terrible time for the Jews, and the Assyrian army was about to attack Yerushalyim (Jerusalem). Yet Yehudis, who was a widow, came and saved the day … again, through radical circumstances.
Yehudis, accompanied by her maidservant, went to the Assyrian army camp, with a basket in hand. She asked for an audience with the general and was granted it. She then told him that she was going to tell him secrets that will make it easier for him to defeat Yerushalyim. Before, though, she offered to dine with him on salty cheese and bread. This made him thirty and Yehudis offered him white wine to drink. Now, this made the general shikker (drunk) and he fell asleep on his couch. Yehudis sent a quick prayer to Hashem (G-d), then quickly removed the general’s sword from his sheath and deftly separated his head from his body.
She then wrapped the head in cloth and placed it in her basket which she carried to Yerushalyim, using it as proof that the general was dead. Using this information, the Jews launched a surprise attack on the Assyrians, and when the Assyrians looked to the general for guidance, all they saw was a headless corpse. So, that is how Yerushalyim was saved.
Next weeks topic: What was the name of Lot’s wife?
P.S. Are you still concerned about the women in the tent example? I was too, until I read this article)