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Dear Deborah

‘You were all about community . . . trying to encourage people to hope, to have faith and to be more justice-minded’

By Carolyn Pogue

Dear Deborah,

I hardly know you. Did I learn your amazing story in Sunday School? Should I not have known a poet, prophet, warrior and judge all of my life, remembering you whenever I needed an energy boost? I have been missing you without knowing. But I'm writing at last — grateful to catch up with and to imagine you.

In my mind's eye, I see you sitting under that palm tree — a hot breeze rustling its leaves. Here, you pronounce judgements after listening to legal arguments between farmers, tribal leaders, traders and villagers. Next, I see you commanding a general to raise an army to free your people and riding with him because he would not go without you. I see you standing strong — your dress and headdress outlined by an orange setting sun, as you preach God's word one quiet evening. And, I watch in awe as you write a song that we can read 3,000 years later. You lived an astonishing life.

I have read that your name, Deborah, means "bee." Fitting, I suppose. You packed a lot of living into your years. Life expectancy in the Bronze and Iron Ages was roughly 30 years. Further, you were a wife and possibly a mother. Working wives and mothers have a lot to take care of even now. Your name suits you; you were fast, direct and hard-working. I hope your husband helped you.

Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella. Photo by Philippe Landreville/Supreme Court of Canada Collection
Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella. Photo by Philippe Landreville/Supreme Court of Canada Collection

I am thinking about strong women and judges these days because the recipient of the 2018 Calgary Peace Prize was announced recently. In April, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella will be the second woman justice to be awarded the prize. In 2009, the Honourable Louise Arbour C.C., G.O.Q. received it.

You would be impressed, I think. Justice Abella is being recognized for establishing justice, social equality and international human rights, as well as emphasizing education throughout her career as a lawyer, commissioner and judge. She was appointed in 2004 to the Supreme Court of Canada — the youngest Canadian and the first Jewish woman so named. I love that she is a classically trained pianist who is involved in the arts community, too.

You were all about community too, Deborah, trying to encourage people to hope, to have faith and to be more justice-minded. I admit that the war part of your story is disconcerting, especially the slaughter of fleeing troops. Jael driving her tent peg through the enemy general's skull is gruesome. On the other hand, as you alluded to in your song, the alternative for Jael was to be raped and murdered. Sadly, we know that rape was — and still is — far too common during war. Today, it is called a war crime.

You were called a "mother in Israel," which is a high honour. I would call you a woman who possessed creativity and courage. We need to inspire these qualities in young people in all spheres of life, whether they be judicial, artistic, political, economic, scientific and environmental. So may your story live on and encourage others who are wondering how they, too, can make a difference. I wish you could come to the Calgary Peace Prize ceremony this spring. Maybe you'll find a way, though. I'll watch for you.

With respect,


This is the ninth in Carolyn Pogue’s “Letter to a Spiritual Ancestor” series. Deborah's story is in the Bible, in Judges, Chapters 4 and 5.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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