CONTEXT: We have two separate versions of the story, one chapter in prose, one in poetry.  The prose opens with the typical Deuteronomic historian’s thesis/template: troubles result from angering God–by worshipping other gods–and redemption occurs when Israel turns back to God. The poem, a triumphal ode, follows what might be called the troubadour fashion of sharing ancient tales of heroes and villains. The poem is likely one of the earliest documents in Bible.
            The word elef means 1,000. In war stories the term refers to a military unit most likely far fewer than 1,000, though the narrator could be exaggerating for effect.   An empire like Assyria or Babylonia could field an army of thousands but in the days of the kings of Israel, 300 was probably a force that could be raised and armed, provisioned, and sent against a town or another army. In these stories, I render elef as “battalion,” a unit of 300-1000 fighters in the U.S. Army.  A “company” counts 62-190 soldiers, and this may come closer to the word elef as it functions in this story. (Department of the Army, Pamphlet 10-1, 14 June 1994, page 53)
            I have added geographical glosses in Times New Roman, enclosed in {}. Prentheses, ( ), indicate a scribal gloss in the received text.


            1Once Ehud was dead, the B’nai Yisrael continued doing bad in Yahh’s eyes. 2So Yahh sold them into the hand of Yavin, a K’na’an king who reigned in Chatsor {in the valley just west of the Yarden River, north of Yam Kineret.} His general was Sisra, stationed in Charoshet Hagoyim {in the Kishon valley just east of the southern reach of Mt Carmel.} 3He had nine hundred chariots with iron and harshly oppressed the B’nai Yisrael for twenty years, till they called out to Yahh.
            4D’vorah was a prophet woman, wife of Lapidot. She judged Yisrael at that time. People came up to her for justice. 5(The tree under which she sat was known as Tomer, “Date Palm,” of D’vorah, between the Ramah and Bet El, in the mountains of Ephraim.)
            6She sent for and summoned Barak ben Avinoam from Kedesh Naftali {in the far north Yarden valley.} “Yahh, God of Yisrael hereby commands you: Go, assemble at Mt. Tabor {the high point of  Emek Yizrael.} Take with you ten battalions from Naftali and Z’vulun. 7I am assembling against you Sisra, Yavin’s general, with his chariots and hordes at Nachal Kishon. And I will give him into your hand.”
            8“I’ll go if you go with me,” said Barak. “If you go not with me, I won’t go.”
            9“I’ll go, go with you. But then walking such a path won’t lead to your glory, for Yahh will sell Sisra into a woman’s hand.”  D’vorah then rose and traveled with Barak to Kedesh. 
            10Barak called up Z’vulun and Naftali to Kedesh. Ten battalions of men came up, at his feet, and D’vorah as well. 
            11(Chever the Qeni had split from Qayin, descendants of Chovav, Moshe’s father-in-law. He pitched his tent by Elon/Oak B’tsa’a’nanim near Kedesh.)
            12They told Sisra that Barak ben Avinoam had gone up to Mt. Tabor. 13He called up all his chariots–900, with iron–and all the forces he had available, from Charoshet HaGoyim to Nachal Kishon.
            14D’vorah said to Barak: “Up!  For today is the day Yahh has given Sisra into your hand. Hasn’t Yahh gone out before you!” Barak descended Mt. Tabor followed by his ten battalions, {traveling ten miles to the battle.} 15Yahh, by mouth of sword, discombobulated Sisra and all those chariots and the whole camp before Barak. Sisra jumped off his chariot and fled on foot. 16Barak pursued the chariot along with the troops back to Charoshet HaGoyim, where Sisra’s forces fell by mouth of sword Not a single one remained standing.
            17Sisra, had fled {forty miles} by foot to the tent of Yael, wife of Chever the Keni, for there was peace between King Yavin of Chatsor and the house of Chever. 18Yael went out to greet Sisra: “Turn aside, milord, come in to me. Don’t be afraid.” So he did, going in to her tent and she covered him with a blanket.
            19“Give me a bit of water, please.  I’m thirsty.” She opened the skin bag of milk and gave him a drink and then covered him again. 20“Stand at the tent opening. If anyone comes and asks you if a man is here, you tell him: none.”
            21Yael took up a tent peg and gripped the maul. Silently she crept up to him and drove the peg through his temple right into the ground.  He had been sleeping, exhausted.  Now he died. 
            22Just then Barak came in pursuit of Sisra. Yael went out to greet him: “Come, I’ll show you the man you are seeking.” He went with her and there was Sisra, fallen dead with the tent peg through his temple.
            23God subdued Yavin, king of K’na’an, that day, before B’nai Yisrael. 24The hand of Yisrael waxed harder and harder against Yavin, till they completely cut him off.


            CONTEXT: Barachu, like baruch is commonly translated “praise” or “bless.”  From the root b-r-ch, ברך, meaning “knee,” the word suggests kneeling in greeting.  In my ear the word conveys a formal, salutary greeting, not unlike the Spanish toast: salud, or the royal greeting, “O king, live forever.” (Dan 3:9).  I render the expression barachu Yahh, imperative plural, which occurs twice in the poem, as “Hail Yahh.”  Twice it is applied to Yael, the heroine. Hail is an acclaiming greeting, whose meaning in Old English is “health.” It covers the good wish of “blessing” and the affirmation of “praise.”
            Some of the lines have become corrupted in transmission by either faulty memory or by prosaic minded copyists working with unclear or damaged manuscripts, to the point that they make no sense at all.  Passages that tantalize the reader with hints but cannot be forced into meaningful narrative I have set in currier, separating words with *.

1Then, on that day, D’vorah sang (and Barak ben Avinoam)

2When hair flowed free in Yisrael,
   When people gave themselves,
Hail, Yahh!
3Listen ye kings,      give ear ye princes:
   I to Yahh, I sing,     I hymn, to Yahh god of Yisrael.
4When You went out, O Yahh, from Se’ir,
   When You marched from the field of Edom,
Earth moved,    sky dripped,    clouds dripped water,
   5Mountains flowed from before Yahh,
            The One of Sinai, Yahh, god of Yisrael.

6From days of Shamgar ben Anat, to days of Yael
   Caravans ceased.  Path walkers went crooked.
      7Hamlet living ceased.
Till I, D’vorah, arose–mother in Yisrael arose!
8Chooses * new judges * barley bread (war…gates?)
   A shield to be seen?  Or a spear?
      Among forty thousand in Yisrael?
9My heart to the incisive in Yisrael
   The self givers among the people. 
      Hail, Yahh!
10Riders of white she asses, sitters on saddles,
   And walkers on the way
Talk about it
 11Sound * dividers(archers) * between wells *
  there * rehearse the just deeds of Yahh
      Then the Yahh folk marched down to the gates.

12Rouse up, rouse up, D’vorah!
   Rouse up, rouse up, strike up song.
Up, Barak.  Take your prisoners, son of Avinoam.

13Then marched down survivor * for nobles
The Yahh folk marched down for him as heroes.
14From Efrayim their root * in the Amalek
   After * Binyamin * among your troops
      From Machir marched down incisive ones,
         From Z’vulun, leaders with the staff of a scribe.
            15Yisachar’s officers…with D’vorah, Yisachar * thus * Barak
            In the valley, sent at his feet.

Among the divisions of R’uven, great introspections.
16Why did you sit at firesides, listening to whistles at flocks?
   17Gil’ad Gad, settled beyond the Yarden?
      Dan, why sojourn by ships?
         Asher, sitting by the seashore, settled on its bays?

18Z’vulun, a folk that scorned living: to death!
   Naftali, on the heights of the field!
19The kings came, they fought.  
    Then fought, those kings of K’na’an,
     At Ta’anach by the waters of M’gido.
      They took no silver gain.
20From the sky fought the stars, from their courses they fought with Sisra.
   21The Kishon stream swept them away, that ancient stream.
               Stride, my passion, in strength!
      22The horse hoofs hammered, with galloping, galloping war steeds.

23“Cursed be Meroz,” said the angel of Yahh.
    “Cursed, damned, be its inhabitants.
      For they came not to the aid of Yahh, to the aid of Yahh among heroes.”
24Most hailed of women, Yael! Of tent women be she hailed.
  Water he asked, milk she gave,
  In a bowl fit for lords she brought buttermilk.
 26Her hand she sends for the handle, her right hand to the pounding piece.
     She pounded Sisra, flattened his head, smashed and destroyed his temple.
     27Between her legs he fell to his knees, he dropped and lay.
         Where he fell to his knees, there he dropped dead.

28Through the window gazed and wondered Sisra’s mother, through the lattice:
     Why, his chariot hesitates to arrive?  Why so late the footfalls of his chariotry?
29The wisdom of her ladies answers her so that she turns back her own words:
    Surely they found and are dividing booty.
     A vagina or two per head!
       Booty of dyed cloth for Sisra.
         Embroidery, two embroideries for every neck.

31So perish all your enemies, Yahh!
   They who love Him be like the sun rising in its power.

Then the land was quiet for forty years.

© Rabbi David L. Kline            http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/

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