Shoftim: Yael


Well, we have finished Pirkei Avot – finally! – and have now plunged into Sefer Shoftim, not to be confused with Parsha Shoftim. 

I listened to a fascinating shiur by Kochava Yitzchak which detailed the role of Yael in the Sefer and her connection to Eshet Chayil. I thought it was well worth sharing so I have transcribed the Shiur and pasted it below. Please bear in mind that they are my notes so you would be better off listening to the actual Shiur. I hope you all enjoy it!

Women of Valour: Yael

Yaldeya shilcha … Eshet Chayil – she stretches her hands out to the distaff and her palms hold the spindle (spinning wool)

Midrash: She sends her hand out to the spindle = Yael. Why is she described this way? Wool/spinning instruments are typically female instruments. Yael embraced this feminine aspect of herself. When Yael in her moment of heroism had to kill Sisra she did not use a sword, rather she used a tent peg with the strength of her hands. Why didn’t she use a weapon of war? She was very sensitive to a pasuk in the Torah that a woman should not use a male instrument and a man should not use a woman’s instrument – – what is going on here?? What is the point of this explanation?? What are we supposed to learn?

Jewish people living in Israel, there is no king and the people have been living there for about 100 years. The rulers are judges/shoftim. At the time the leader was Devorah. For 20 year the people were being oppressed by a King called Yavin, king of C’naan. Why is there another king ruling over the land of Israel? Even though Joshua had conquered Israel, the Canaanites had been trying to establish control and had settled a capital city in the centre of the region. Sisra was a general and had achieved great heights. All he was missing was Israel to make his ultimate conquest. He has a big army (9000 iron chariots) and all he needs to do is conquer Israel.

Hashem had told Devorah that he was going to create a battle and the Jewish people were going to triumph. The battle ensues, Devorah is in charge and all the soldiers were killed and only Sisra remains – the most dangerous of them all. Sisra runs to the tent of Yael, the wife of Chever who comes from the people of the Kaynim – Yitro was from the Kaynim. Chever is from this tribe and is married to Yael and Sisra runs there because there was peace between the King of C’naan and the family of the Kayni so he thought that it would be a safe place for him to go.

Yael understands that he is coming and she realizes the import of this event so she goes out to meet Sisra – who else goes out of her tent? Leah too goes out of her tent to great her husband. Yael is compared to Leah – when a woman goes out of her tent there is an implication … Yael beckons him and covers him with a blanket (smecha) – sura, sura adoni – come, turn aside, come to me …. He asks for water and instead of getting it she goes to her container of milk and gives it to him and he starts to doze off. She kills him with a tent peg – bloody scene. Barak is running outside, he had been following Sisra. Yael goes out to greet (again she goes out of her tent) Barak and calls him to show him that Sisra is dead.

What was so amazing out Yael that this tremendous victory came through her? Simple say the Rabbis, she was a kosher Jewish woman who did the will of her husband… She does the will of her husband – she brings to life (gives reality) all the new energy from her husband. (Read Pasuk and listen to the words and the music – hissing …sly)…

Yael was not typical – she was the kind of woman who when you met her, you did not forget her. There were 4 women who inspired lust, passion, desire in other men in various ways –

–       Rachav = was a prostitute and she inspired lust with her name.

–       Yael = inspired lust with her voice. This was part of her greatness (she did not abuse this power). She knew she had magic in her voice!

–       Avigal = she inspired passion just by remembering her.

–       Michal Bat Shaul = inspired passion by her appearance.

Why does she get the milk? She needed to know what he had in mind – milk can get you drunk – real milk straight from the cow – she wants to know the truth about his intentions. When he had drunk he demanded that she do something inappropriate. Once she understood his true intention she had to take action.

Debate: Did Yael actually do anything with Sisra? Gemara tells us: it is greater to do a sin when you are doing it for the sake of a mitzvah – this has more value than doing a mitzvah for your own selfish purposes. Yael is the proof for this notion – seems to indicate that she compromised herself for lofty intentions.

Devorah sings a song of praise to Hashem and among the people she praises is Yael. She says of Yael: Yael should be blessed above all other women because he asked for water and she gave him milk/cream etc. He fell/knelt/lay between her feet, and there where he fell, he vanquished – number of verbs for falling = 7 verbs > from this pasuk the Rabbis understand that he had relations with her seven times. Or, perhaps this is just for emphasis?

Blanket: with a ‘sin’ not a ‘samech’ (semicha) – not repeated elsewhere in this way, therefore can’t just be a blanket = shmi co – my name is here (Hashem), Hashem is testifying that Sisra did not touch Yael.

Who are the women of the tent? Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah – the women who preserved everything that was holy and sacred in the tent. Had it not been for Yael then the evil Sisra would have killed off the Jewish people.  So, while Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah brought the Jewish people in to the world, Yael allowed their survival.

Don’t think that Yael was abusing the power of her voice (her voice makes her unlikely to be one of the women of the tent) – she is always referred to as “the wife of chever” – she embraced her role as a wife.

Three people in the Torah were put in a terrible test of sexual immorality, and were able to successfully pass the test and Hashem added his name to their name: Yosef (Tehillim he is called Yehosef) and Potifar’s wife, Yael (Ya-El – the name of Hashem is upon her), Palti

Batya also sends her hand to grab something – Moshe – from the teyva (same letters BATYA = TEYVA). Yael sends her hand she grabs the tent peg. Rabbis make a connection between these women – Batya’s basket and Yael’s tent peg = if not for the basket you would never have a tent peg. Connection: if Batya had not sent her hand to grab the basket with baby Moshe then we would never have a Moshe. But, she did. Moshe grows up, gets into trouble by standing up for the Jews, kills the Egyptian and gets in trouble with Paro who wants to kill him. Moshe runs away to Yitro. Yitro takes him in at his own danger and gives his daughter for Moshe to marry. Because Yitro took Moshe in, he merits to have an offspring (Chever) who is going to marry Yael who is going to kill Sisra who is a reincarnation of Paro.

 Cain and Abel (Adam’s children) > Cain kills Abel because Abel was born with two twin sisters and Cain was born with only 1 twin sister. Cain wants Abel’s second sister. – this was confusing.

What does it mean to be Eshet Chayil? The secret of an EC is that you pull out of your pocket whatever character trait is necessary in that moment.

Another woman who stands in stark contrast to Yael – here is Yael who does not abuse her power, she is contrasted with Sisra’s mother who looks out of the window and cries > where is Sisra? Her ladies in waiting imply that Sisra is out enjoying the spoils of war – two wombs for each man, it will take time. Sisra – his name encapsulates his downfall. Sisra = turning aside (lasur = to get off your straight path and turn aside.).

Compare Yael to Leah – Leah comes out of her tent while Yaacov was riding on his donkey which Hashem ensured made donkey noises. That night, Leah and Yaacov are together and she conceives Yisachar. When Yisachar gets his blessings he is compared to a donkey because a donkey carries a heavy burden. Yisachar carried the burden of Torah, the yoke of Torah. Another woman who goes out = when Yael goes out (like Leah) to greet Sisra (just like Leah goes out for Yaacov) and Leah and Yaacov created Yisachar, so too when Yael went out to Sisra she created Rabbi Akiva – not Yael’s direct child but a descendent of Sisra. Rabbi Akiva is a reincarnation of Yisachar. Rabbi Akiva for the first 40 years of his life he was not Torah observant but he also hated Torah scholars. He used to say that if he found a Torah scholar on the street he would bite him like a donkey.

Switch around the letters of Yael’s name and you get Eli from the story of Chana. Yael, the woman of the tent, comes back as Eli who is the High Priest in the mishkan. Yael’s husband is Chever. Chever was originally Rachav (prostitute), same shoresh. Chever gets reincarnated as Chana.

Yael spins wool and linen – Shatnez. Cain and Abel – Cain was a shepherd, a man of wool and Abel was a man of the field, a man of flax seeds, linen. Cain and Abel represent wool and linen – two different lifestyles. Yael knew how to combine the wool and the linen successfully. She knows how to use her power of linen (outside) and to take her power of wool (inside) and combine them so that they work successfully together and does not cause tragedy for her. Wool and linen exist in tzitzit (wool strings and linen garment) and also in the clothing of the cohanim – when Yael comes back as Eli there is a connection… a High Priest is an all encompassing being… like Yael.


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