Is that the sound of a car? She runs to the window, peeks out. It’s just a neighbor, backing out of his driveway. Again, she checks her watch, tries his cell phone. It’s off. Where is he? She returns to the kitchen to stack the dishwasher. Three plates and she’s back at the window. Where is he?

Waiting, worried, for someone you love is an age-old experience: It goes back thousands of years to when the mother of Sisera the warrior looked out of the window, waiting for her son to return from the battlefield. 

In Shiras Devorah, Devorah describes how the women around eim Sisera offer her comfort. “He is still plundering the spoils of war,” they tell her. “He’ll be back shortly.” But the mother of Sisera emits 100 sorrowful wails — and the hundred blasts we sound on the shofar correspond to and neutralize this mother’s expression of anguish. What is the inner depth of Sisera’s mother’s wails? What can we learn from this tyrant’s mother, whose actions reverberate until today?

In Truth

One of the most fundamental lessons a parent can convey to her child is the Torah prohibition against lying. We sing songs about telling the truth, attempt Torah versions of Pinocchio, and withhold punishment for misdemeanors as long as our child “owns up.” And yet, as a society, we are heavily concerned with the way “things look” and “how we’re seen.” We feel compelled to project images of ourselves and our homes and families that, at times, do not accurately reflect reality. When every meal is served on china, and the children are dressed in matching, impeccable outfits, it’s easy to distract ourselves from the reality of our lives. 

After Adam and Chavah sinned and realized their nakedness, the Torah tells us that they clothe themselves with fig leaves. And yet, realizing that they are still unclothed, they hide. This primordial paradox occurs still today: We don clothes, with the knowledge that we are broken and naked. We pull on a persona, conscious of the impression that we make, yet in the depths of our hearts, we know — and fear — the rawness of our vulnerabilities. There is fallout from the disguises we employ, and sadly, it is often children who are sacrificed. All too often, children are pushed into the wrong schools and yeshivahs for the sake of appearances or shidduch resumés. 

Another way we deceive ourselves is through the blame game. Instead of taking personal responsibility for the challenges we face, we blame others — commonly, “the system.” Projecting the problem onto an outside cause allows us to save face; after all, it all happened for a reason beyond our control. 

A deeply moving example of this is found in Neviim. Shaul Hamelech has been pursuing Dovid relentlessly, in an attempt to save his kingdom from this “usurper.” He arrives in Nayot, where he begins to prophesize alongside a group of neviim there. The navi describes that Shaul removed his kingly garments, an action we can understand on a symbolic level. At that moment, Shaul realized that he was losing his kingdom not because of Dovid, but due to his sins. It was a moment of truth. A moment of personal responsibility. A moment when the fig leaves were removed and truth revealed.

Entering the Holy of Holies

Sometime in life we all have wake-up calls. There are flashing lightning bolts when we realize something critical about ourselves, our families, our priorities. As well, there’s the annual call within the Jewish calendar. Listening to the shofar’s cry is a seminal experience, one akin to entering the Holy of Holies, the seforim write. Entering the Holy of Holies means penetrating all the outer layers of our personalities, entering the precinct of truth. It’s the place of our inner self. It’s the place where we can be ruthlessly honest about who we are, who we really are. The shofar prods us to realize that we can’t spend our lives hiding behind the trappings. At some point, we have to face our shortcomings — and then tackle them. 

How does all this relate to the mother of Sisera? Mothers, from time immemorial, have a special way of looking at their children: He’s not a bully, he’s simply showing leadership in a slightly… ahem… undeveloped way. You may think she’s chutzpahdig, but she’s simply displaying precocious verbal abilities — and a real independent mind. 

Of course, it’s this positive spin that allows mothers to bring out the best in their children. But there are limits. Sisera, too, could be characterized in different ways. He’s a warrior. He’s brave. He fights for his nation. Or, he’s a murderer, a plunderer, and he is heading for Gehinnom. 

Sisera’s mother spent her days convincing herself that she had raised a successful leader and a great human being. But as he tarried on the battlefield, and she looked through the window — of her heart — she understood the truth. She had failed as a mother. She had raised a monster. And she let out 100 cries of anguish. 

The word used for Sisera’s mother’s cry is an interesting one: Va’teyabev. When Jewish women cry, the term is invariably a form of bechi. The root bechi connotes the kind of tears that contain hope, not the tears of despair: Rochel Imeinu cries (mevacah) for her children, with the resulting promise of redemption. 

The Nesivos Shalom highlights the difference between a Jew’s tears and the tears of a non-Jew: A non-Jew may weep from despair, but a Jew, even when filled with sorrow, cries with hope. When the daughter of Pharaoh opened baby Moshe’s basket and saw him crying, she knew immediately it was a Jewish child — from the quality of his cry, explains the Nesivos Shalom. The mother of Sisera cries from a place of despair: Her son is raised, grown, and it is too late to put right the mistakes she has made. Her cries are rectified by the 100 shofar blasts — by facing up to the truth, we have the opportunity to reexamine our priorities and our identities, and to realign our lives. Although we may shed tears when we hear the shofar, they are glistening drops of hope. 

There is a further lesson we can glean from the mother of Sisera. The Malbim interprets her “looking through the window” as referring to the window of witchcraft. And with this supernatural view, she saw her son wallowing in blood — which precipitated her wailing. Rav Yudelevitz explains that, although she was a wicked woman, Hashem counts the tears of each and every person. Her tears, which were caused by the Jews killing her son, created an accusing force against the Jews. 

The 100 shofar blasts protect the Jews from her tears. The number 100 is derived from the number of letters in Shiras Devorah that deal with the lament of Sisera’s mother. A count of the passage, however, reveals 101 letters, not 100. Rav Yudelevitz points out that the very first cry was one of pure despair. The raw maternal emotion cannot be offset by the regular shofar. The only blast with enough power to counteract it is the shofar call that will herald the Ultimate Redemption. Her anguish caused an atomic blast in the spiritual realms, which still waits to be neutralized. Here we get a glimpse of the immense power of a mother’s tears. No wonder the Brisker Rav was wont to say that raising good children depends on a mother’s Tehillim and tears. 

Chazal teach us that the two great Amoraim, Shmaya and Avtalyon, were descendants of eim Sisera (they were both converts). Notwithstanding her wickedness, the mother of Sisera was able to look through the window — she came to look at herself with honesty. And she used her mother’s heart to cry out to Hashem. In that merit, giants of spirit emerged from her.

In our own lives, may we be zocheh to “look through the window” — face ourselves in honesty and truth. And may the tears we shed wash away anguish and hopelessness, and carry us to a place of hope and renewal.