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The Book of Judges relates how Avimelekh, the son of Gideon rose to power and made himself a king by killing his seventy brothers. His eventual fate came, when he sieged Teiveitz and wanted to take a fortified tower (Judges 9:53):

וַתַּשְׁלֵ֞ךְ אִשָּׁ֥ה אַחַ֛ת פֶּ֥לַח רֶ֖כֶב עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ אֲבִימֶ֑לֶךְ וַתָּ֖רִץ אֶת־גֻּלְגָּלְתּֽוֹ׃

And a certain woman cast an upper millstone upon Avimelech's head, and broke his skull.

Most commentaries I saw discuss the upper millstone regarding this verse, but they don't tell anything about the identity of this woman. For me it's quite strange that a woman could lift such a heavy stone, yet I failed to find anything about her. Do you know anything particular about her that escaped my attention? Besides being a serious blow to the ego of Avimelekh, why is it important that he was killed by a woman?

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  • It was less about a woman killing him and more the fact that he was killed by a rock - it was middah knegged middah for him killing his brothers on one rock.
    – Dov
    Dec 7, 2020 at 12:30
  • Maybe she pushed it off a ledge.
    – N.T.
    Jan 6, 2021 at 21:40

2 Answers 2

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The medrash there explains a lesson (not by giving her identity, but by discussing gender):

And [yet] people vilify the name of the Lord in vain. It is therefore stated (in Eccl. 5:1), “Do not be rash with your mouth…. for God is in heaven and you are on earth.” For who would say that God is not in heaven and that people are not on earth? [Accordingly], Solomon has said, “Every time that the weakest of the weak is above, he defeats the warrior below.” Go and learn from Abimelech (in Jud. 9:53), “But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and cracked his skull.”41Since the woman was above the warrior Abimelech in the tower of Thebez, her killing him is an example of a relatively weak person defeating a warrior from above. And if he was a warrior among warriors and there was none like him, and [yet] a woman [was able to] kill him from above, how much the more so in the case of the Holy One, blessed be He!

Admittedly, I'm not sure why the connection is made between God in heaven and the weaker power's being above -- it seems to be a kal vachomer. If the weak can win from above, all the more so, God wins as he is above. But God is able to win wherever he is, so I don;t see why "being above" matters.

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  • Kind of "there's always a higher power above you"? Dec 7, 2020 at 12:33
  • @Kazibácsi I guess, but if Hashem is that power, he is everywhere so pointing out his "being above" and then proving it by a case in which a weaker power is above confuses me.
    – rosends
    Dec 7, 2020 at 12:38
  • דע מה ממעלה ממך! Dec 7, 2020 at 13:40
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Rabbi Yosef Qafich in his essay בענין דיכה, חיתוך ירקות ושחיקה בשבת, Sinai 77, p. 241 explained that the פלח רכב was not a large grinding stone from a mill but a small, handheld one that was found in every woman's kitchen in olden times.

Here's a crude Bronze Age one I found during an archeological survey:

Bronze Age grinding stone

And some were larger than this, but still handheld, for home use.

With that said, Rabbi Avraham Taub in his book Divrei Tovah, p. 607 points out the usage of the seemingly unnecessary אחת to describe the woman - it would have been enough just to say "ותשלך אשה פלח...", with "אחת". Therefore he suggests that she was one particular woman; that perhaps this woman was not originally from Tevetz but from Shechem - the people of Shechem having been wronged by Avimelech - so she got her revenge.

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