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Yael: Sacrificing Morality for God

Feb 9, 2023

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

Most blessed of women be Yael, Wife of Chever the Kenite, Most blessed of women in tents.

t'-vo-RAKH mi-na-SHEEM ya-AYL AY-shet KHE-ver ha-kay-NEE mi-na-SHEEM ba-O-hel t'-vo-RAKH

Judges 5:24

By Rabbi Elie Mischel

Would you consider a woman who seduces an army general, lulls him to sleep, and then murders him to be a religious hero? Incredibly, the Bible does!

“…Yael came out to greet Sisera… he entered her tent…she opened a skin of milk and gave him some to drink, and she covered him…. Yael, wife of Heber, took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died.” (Judges 4:17-21).

The sages explain that Yael seduced the evil general Sisera in order to kill him (Talmud, Yevamot 103a), sacrificing her morality in order to kill a great enemy of the people of Israel. Did Yael make the right choice? In the next chapter, Deborah makes clear that Yael is to be praised for her deed:

“Most blessed of women is Yael, Wife of Chever the Kenite; above women of the tent she shall be blessed… Her [left] hand reached for the tent pin, Her right for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, crushed his head, Smashed and pierced his temple.” (Judges 5:24-26)

How can Deborah the prophetess praise Yael for her actions, which came at the cost of her modesty?

Deborah says that Yael is blessed “above women of the tents,” an unusual phrase. The sages explain that “women of the tents” alludes to the holy foremothers of Israel – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah – women who are associated with the image of the tent, for they modestly avoided the public attention that was available to them “outside of the tent.” Incredibly, Deborah says that Yael is blessed even more than the modest foremothers of Israel! How can this be?

Though often unappreciated in our modern secular culture, modesty is unquestionably a fundamental value of the Bible. But modesty, however, does not mean passivity. Though modesty is the virtuous standard for religiously committed women, the Bible is telling us that there are moments in history when women must leave their comfort zone and take action, even at the expense of their own virtue. 

During times of upheaval and war, women are sometimes called upon to leave their tents and temporarily set aside their modesty to fight for what is good and righteous.

Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, Dutch sisters living through the nightmare of Nazi occupation, bravely joined the Dutch resistance. Their job was to seduce Nazis, applying makeup and bright red lipstick to pick up soldiers at bars and lure them to their deaths. “Ha Heinz, come here,” they would call to the soldiers, pretending to be drunk when they approached their targets. They would then lure the men to the woods, where their comrades were lying in wait to kill the soldiers (Sophie Poldermans, Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII). Truus was later honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, for her bravery in protecting Jews during the Holocaust.

Though we pray for peace, war and crisis will be a part of our lives until the final redemption arrives. And in moments of crisis, we are deeply thankful that there are righteous women who are willing to sacrifice everything in the battle of good versus evil.

Related Names and Places: Jael

Related Bible basics: Deborah

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 4, Chapter 5

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