“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.”—Judges 4:4
The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means “when he sent them away,” from Exodus 13:17–17:16, and the Haftorah is from Judges 4:4–5:31.
In this week’s Haftorah, we read about how the prophetess Deborah led the children of Israel to victory. Much like the storyline in the Torah reading, Israel triumphed through God’s miracles and then the Israelites sang a song of praise to God. However, there is one glaring difference between the two readings: Here in the Haftorah, the Israelites’ leader is a woman – and we have much to learn from her feminine approach to leadership.
Scripture gives us very little background information about Deborah; however, we are told that she was “the wife of Lappidoth.” The Sages explain that “Lappidoth” was a name that Deborah’s husband earned, but they credit Deborah for starting him on his road to success.
According to tradition, while Deborah was an intellectually and spiritually advanced woman, her husband was nothing special. He wasn’t even motivated to grow or change. This must have been disappointing for Deborah, but she didn’t shout at him, attack him, or tell him he was no good. Instead, she made lappidoth, or wicks, and she asked her husband to bring them to the Tabernacle to be used for the menorah lamp.
Deborah’s husband went on this errand and he was completely inspired by the holiness of the Tabernacle, as she knew he would be. Motivated to be a part of it, her husband realized that he could make even thicker wicks so there would be even more light in the Tabernacle. Deborah’s husband was honored for his contribution and became known as ‘Lappidoth’ for what he accomplished. The Tabernacle was enlightened, Deborah’s husband was elevated, and she had never even said a word.
That is powerful leadership. That is feminine leadership — nurturing and encouraging, inspiring growth through love.
There is a story about a circus clown and an elephant who sits on the clown’s hat. The clown gestures wildly and yells at the elephant to move, but the animal ignores him. Frustrated, the clown kicks the elephant, but all he gets is a sore foot. Finally, the clown ridiculously and unsuccessfully tries to lift the elephant. After that, he plops down defeated and eats a peanut. Upon smelling the peanut, the elephant immediately gets up and walks over to the clown, freeing the hat from underneath him.
When we want to get someone to do something — be it our children, our spouse, co-workers, or friends— there are two ways we can go about it. We can use force, or we can use love. As Deborah teaches, and as the clown unwittingly demonstrates, the softer touch is often a more powerful force for change.
Whom might you motivate this week? More importantly, how?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President