Footnoted song lyrics
"Who Sent the Heat," annotated
A song in Judith’s voice, by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble
Who sent the heat
that fell upon my husband’s head
and killed him in the harvest field1
three years ago2
and what will they eat
the children of a city under siege
by a general whose cup overflows3
I fasted for three days
then I arose and dressed myself
in crimson silk and necklaces
and bracelets of gold4
towards the city gates
I walked alone through empty streets5
and I could feel a thousand eyes
watching me go6
they said our city was lost, lost
and it was true that we were surrounded
they said our only hope lay with God7
but I didn’t pray8
I brushed my hair with oil of myrrh9
and smiled at the general
while he drank his wine10
I wondered as I watched him
did he have a wife at home
and would she grieve for her husband
as I grieved for mine11
1 “And Manasses was [Judith’s] husband, of her tribe and kindred, who died in the barley harvest. For as he stood overseeing them that bound sheaves in the field, the heat came upon his head, and he fell on his bed, and died in the city of Bethulia” (Book of Judith, Catholic version, 8:2-3)
2 “So Judith was a widow in her house three years and four months” (8:4)
3 “Therefore their young children were out of heart, and their women and young men fainted for thirst, and fell down in the streets of the city, and by the passages of the gates, and there was no longer any strength in them” (7:21). I wanted to emphasize the cruelty of this strategy, a powerful general starving children out in order to win a war.
4 “And she took sandals upon her feet, and put about her her bracelets, and her chains, and her rings, and her earrings, and all her ornaments, and decked herself bravely, to allure the eyes of all men that should see her” (10:4)
5 Although in the story Judith is accompanied by her maid, I imagined her walking completely alone, to further dramatize the moment and the isolation of a single, unarmed body walking through the darkness in a time of war.
6 I imagined all the people of the city peeking from their windows. Writing this line, I thought of the parallel story of Yael; after Yael kills the enemy general, Sisera, his mother waits in vain for his return: “Through the window she looked forth, and peered, the mother of Sisera, through the lattice: 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?’” (Judges 5:28)
7 In the story, Judith admonishes the men for giving God a five-day deadline in order to win the war (“And they came unto her, and she said unto them, Hear me now, O ye governors of the inhabitants of Bethulia: for your words that ye have spoken before the people this day are not right, touching this oath which ye made and pronounced between God and you, and have promised to deliver the city to our enemies, unless within these days the Lord turn to help you....For if he will not help us within these five days, he hath power to defend us when he will, even every day, or to destroy us before our enemies” (8:11-15). I chose to twist Judith’s words slightly; in the text she is quite pious and criticizes the men in power for not trusting God enough, while in my song I emphasize the fact that they relied on prayer, while Judith takes action.
8 I chose to make a bold statement in this line, which departs in some ways from the original story. In fact, the story describes Judith as a very religious woman; she “feared God greatly” (8:8) and she does indeed pray extensively (chapter 9) before heading out to Holofernes’ tent.
But I also see Judith’s character and her relationship with God as more complex than one of simple piety. First, she rebukes the men in power for relying on God in a way that is both helplessly dependent, and strangely controlling (see note 7). Then, she makes this rather startling declaration: “Hear me, and I will do a thing, which shall go throughout all generations to the children of our nation. You shall stand this night in the gate, and I will go forth with my waiting-woman: and within the days that you have promised to deliver the city to our enemies the Lord will visit Israel by my hand” (8:32-33)
Reading the phrase “The Lord will visit Israel by my hand,” I think of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous statement about participating in the civil rights March on Washington: “I felt my feet were praying.” I read Judith’s assertion to mean that God will indeed intervene, as the leaders hope, but - and this is a major caveat - only through human action. I imagine a Judith who understands God acting through people, and who bravely risks her life by praying with her body, rather than simply her mouth.
9 The Catholic Book of Judith describes her preparations: she “pulled off the sackcloth which she had on, and put off the garments of her widowhood, and washed her body all over with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment, and braided the hair of her head, and put on a tire upon it, and put on her garments of gladness, wherewith she was clad during the life of Manasses her husband.” (10:3). The Me’am Loez version of the story, a Sephardic Jewish retelling, describes Judith anointing herself with myrrh, which I included here as well. Interestingly, both Esther and Judith prepare themselves to win over a non-Jewish king with careful applications of make-up and oils, and both are associated with post-Biblical holidays (Esther with Purim, and Judith with Chanukah).
10 “And Holofernes took great delight in [Judith], and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born” (12:20)
11 In these lines, I wanted to give Judith compassion for Holofernes’ wife, who--if she existed--would become a widow just like Judith. I imagine a wise Judith who sees the consequences of her actions, realizing that brave as her action is, and necessary to save the lives of children in her city, she might also be causing the same pain she has been experiencing for the past three years since her husband died. Again, I thought of the slain general Sisera’s mother waiting for his return in the story of Yael, which is often compared to that of Judith (see note 6): “Through the window she looked forth, and peered, the mother of Sisera, through the lattice: 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?’” (Judges 5:28) I am interested in the way the storyteller of Judges imagines the grief of the villain’s mother, and inspired by this, I wanted to grant Judith radical compassion for Holofernes’ wife.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Footnoted song lyrics." (Viewed on September 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/node/22775>.