It’s Biblical! This week: Barak

It’s Biblical! This week: Barak

Everything you ever wanted to know about your favourite Torah characters, and the ones you’ve never heard of...

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Barak and Sisera
Barak and Sisera

Barak was an Israelite military general during the Tribal Confederacy, which preceded the reign of the Kings of Israel.

Faced with an attack by Sisera, commander-in-chief of Jabin, king of the Canaanite stronghold of Hatzor, Barak consulted Deborah, the prophetess and judge of Israel.

Deborah, by divine command, suggested that he fight the enemy. In spite of the numerical supremacy of Israel, this was no mean feat.

Hatzor resurged after Joshua’s conquest as an independent Canaanite city. As in Joshua’s time, Hatzor was equipped with iron-clad chariots, as they were able to race them in the valley of Jezreel.

Although Barak was able to muster a considerable army of 10,000 men, they were matched by 9,000 chariots, almost one chariot to each soldier. No wonder Barak needed reassurance.

He had called for help from his own tribe, Naftali and neighbouring Zebulun. Another local population, the Kenite people, who were descendants of Jethro, remained neutral.

With only two tribes against a chariot, born superior army, a dispirited Barak told Deborah that unless she came with him as spiritual leader, he would not agree to face the enemy.

Deborah, both in rebuke and reassurance, told him that she would come, he would fight, but the credit would ultimately not be his, but hers.

The battle was fought on the slopes of Mount Tabor, on the edge of the Jezreel valley, near the modern city of Afula.

The sudden rush confounded the enemy and all the Canaanite attackers fled on foot, Sisera included. Owing to a sudden meteorological change, probably a downpour, the Cannanite chariots were mired in mud on the slopes of Tabor, causing the enemy to flee.

Barak is remembered as less intrepid, more a team player through whom the image of women as non-military was challenged.

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

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