Deborah

Deborah by Charles Landelle, 1901

Deborah was a heroine of the Jewish people during the time of Judges, around 1,100 BCE, 100 or so years after the Israelites entered the promised land of Canaan. We don’t know much about Deborah, least of all how she came to be a leader in a time when women generally had very little power. The Bible tells that she would sit beneath a palm tree to advise her people.

While Deborah was growing up, the people of Israel were dominated and harassed by the Canaanites all along their borders. Filling in the blanks a bit, we can imagine how an intelligent, determined and unusually assertive girl might be shaped to take action, if given the power. According to the story, she was given the power and she did take action. She ordered her general, Barak, to assemble an army. For some reason, Barak did not want to go into battle unless Deborah went too, so she did.

Mt. Tabor in the Lower Galilee, where Deborah initially led her army.

Mt. Tabor in the Lower Galilee, where Deborah initially led her army.

Although outnumbered, Deborah, Barak and their troops prevailed, thanks in part to heavy rains that bogged down the Canaanite chariots in mud and swamped them with flash floods. The Canaanite general Sisera was the only survivor of the battle. He took off on foot.

The Yizael Valley, where Deborah's army wiped out the Canaanite army. It lies between Mt. Tabor in the east and Mt. Carmel in the west. Deborah used the strengths of her enemies (heavy armor and chariots) against them by drawing them into the swampy muck of the Kishon River plain, which cuts through the valley.

The Yizael Valley, where Deborah’s army wiped out the Canaanite army. It lies between Mt. Tabor in the east and Mt. Carmel in the west. Deborah used the strengths of her enemies (heavy armor and chariots) against them by drawing them into the swampy muck of the Kishon River plain, which cuts through the valley.

When Sisera came to a Bedouin camp, he asked a woman there, Yael, for some water. She gave him milk instead, which, on top of a terrible day of combat and fleeing for his life, made him drowsy. When he lay down for a nap, Yael nailed his head to the ground with a tent spike, in one temple and out the other. That was the end of Sisera and, apparently, the Canaanite threat as well.

After the victory, the people of Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under Deborah.

Read about Deborah in Judges 4 & 5.

The capital of Canaan during the time of Deborah was Hazor in the Upper Galilee. Today, that site is known as Tel Hazor. It's a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Israel's largest archaeological sites.

The capital of Canaan during the time of Deborah was Hazor in the Upper Galilee. Today, that site is known as Tel Hazor. It’s a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Israel’s largest archaeological sites.

 

Safed

the view from Safed, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

the view from Safed, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Safed (also spelled Tsfat, Tzfat, and a number of other ways) is a town in the Upper Galilee region in the far north of Israel. It’s one of the few cities in Israel that has been continuously inhabited by a Jewish community for over 2,000 years. At an elevation of 3,000 feet, it’s the highest town in the country, with views out across the Galilee, the Golan Heights and Mt. Meron.

Safed is one of the 4 holy cities in Judaism (along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias). According to legend, the Messiah will come through Safed on the way to Jerusalem and the great Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria taught that the divine presence of the Lord will reside in Safed until the building of the 3rd Temple. Legend also tells that the sons of Noah settled in Safed and established a religious school, where Jacob later studied.

In the 16th century, after the Jews were expelled from Spain, Safed became a center of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) and Jewish learning. Yitzhak Luria, known as Ha ARI (the Lion) studied with renowned rabbis there and went on to develop his own interpretations of sacred texts and pass them on to his own students. His mostly oral teachings were written down by students and went on to have immense influence on the practice of Medieval Judaism and are the basis for the study and practice of most Kabbalah still today.

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

Safed, Israel

In Safed you’ll find a charming, labyrinthine old town to stroll about, Medieval synagogues, lots and lots of art galleries and artists’ workshops, and stellar views in all directions. In particular, look for the beautiful Abuhav Synagogue and the Sephardic Ha ARI Synagogue, where the Lion himself spent many hours studying and teaching.

Abuhav Synagogue, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

Abuhav Synagogue, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

art gallery, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

art gallery, Safed, Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of IMOT

kabbalist artist, Safed, Israel

kabbalist artist, Safed, Israel

The annual Safed Klezmer Festival is held in August. Performers from all over Israel and the world play venues around town, many open-air, galleries set up shop in the streets and the whole place parties for three days. Klezmer music is a genre of celebratory, secular music, which originated with Eastern European Jews. Check it out below.

Driving time from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to Safed is about 2-2.5 hours, from Tiberias it’s about 40 minutes.

See tours that include Safed here.