So Sisera, the wicked, feared general, the mighty enemy of the Israelites, had a mother after all - and a mother who worried about him because he is late home from work!
In this week's haftarah, Deborah conjures a very unexpected image as part of her victory song, which celebrates the defeat of Sisera and his army.
Deborah sings of an imagined scene in which Sisera's mother looks out of the window from behind a lattice, waiting for her son and wondering why he is so late home from the battle. She and her attendants reassure themselves that surely Sisera is delayed as he is simply enjoying the plunder, including "a womb or two for every man" (Judges 5:30).
This is a shocking and cruel image, especially in its startling violence being expressed by a woman. Surely her maternal fears cannot excuse this contemptible comment.
Perhaps the purpose of this image is, as suggested by the Protestant theologian James B Jordan, that "the reason why
Sisera was such a vicious enemy of the Israelites was that he had such a mother". Deborah "delights in the misery of the enemy mother, whose savage expectations will not be realised".
Sisera is in fact not just late home, he is dead. The reader knows this, though Sisera's mother does not. Like Deborah, we are triumphant in that knowledge. Yet there is also sympathy, or even empathy too, behind our tradition, which connects her cries to the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The Talmud goes further to actually define the teruah note of the shofar as echoing and evoking the yevavah (sobbing) of Sisera's mother (Rosh Hashanah 33b).
War brutalises its soldiers, but also the mothers who are left behind, helpless and defenceless, waiting ever anxiously by the window, for their menfolk.. who may not return.