Friday, June 30, 2017

Jewish Leaders

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The Haftora for parshas Chukas is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It tells the story of how Yiftach (Jephthah) became Judge, and won a battle against Amon.

Yiftach was the son of Gilad, however his mother was a harlot. His half brothers from Gilad's wife drove Yiftach out, they said to him, "You will not inherit in our father's house because you are the son of another woman." He ran away from his brothers and settled in the land of Tov, empty people gathered around him and would go out with him, like a gang.

A while later Amon went to war against Israel. The leaders of Gilad went to Yiftach and asked him to become the chief and lead Israel in battle against Amon. After some discussion he agreed on the condition that they appoint him leader first, which they agreed to.

After appointing him as the leader, he sent a message to the king of Amon, asking why are you waging war against us? He responded, because we want our land that you captured when you came up from Egypt.

Yiftach sent back a message, with the information found in this week's parsha, explaining that when we came up from Egypt, we went around Edom, Moav (Moab) and Amon, because they wouldn't grant us passage through their lands. The land we captured was the land of Amori who waged war against us, and Hashem gave them into our hands. Why hasn't anyone made this claim before in the past 300 years? He concluded with a strong warning, that "Hashem the Judge will judge today between the Children of Israel and the Children of Amon."

The king of Amon did not pay heed to Yiftach's words. The spirit of Hashem was upon Yiftach and he went to war against Amon. He took an oath that if he would be victorious, he would offer as a sacrifice, the first thing that would come out of his house to greet him. He had a massive victory, and Amon was now under Israel's rulership.

The connection to our parsha is that parshas Chukas tells of how we went around Edom, Moav and Amon, which was mentioned in the message from Yiftach to the king of Amon. It also tells about the amazing victories over Sichon and Og, similar to the great victory over Amon. There are more similarities, when Moshe sent messengers to Edom it says, "And Moshe sent messengers," and when he sent messengers to Sichon it says, "And Israel sent messengers," when it was Moshe who actually sent them. Rashi explains that this is similar to the verse in the Haftora, when Yiftach sent messengers to the king of Amon it says "And Israel sent messengers," teaching us that Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. Because the Nassi (the leader) of the generation is like the whole generation, because the Nassi is everything. Similarly, Yiftach is Israel and Israel is Yiftach. Also in the parsha the Jewish people took an oath similar to that of Yiftach.

The Talmud tells us, that "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation." What does this mean? There is no comparison between the two. Shmuel was a holy and righteous man, Yiftach was not. Shmuel was learned in Torah, Yiftach was not. Rather it is telling us that the leaders we have are appointed by Hashem, and we are obligated to accord them with the same respect. Also it is a mitzvah to follow the laws set by the court of the time. And though Yiftach's court was not at the level of Shmuel's, we were still obligated to follow its rulings.

The Haftora stops before the end of the chapter, where it tells us the tragic story of what became of Yiftach's oath. When Yiftach came home from his victory, his daughter came out to greet him dancing with a tambourine, she was his only child, and she was the first to come forth from his house. He realized his grave mistake and rend his garments. He told her of the oath he had taken. She was a smart girl, and she brought proof that one is not permitted to sacrifice a human. He didn't want to hear. She brought proof that he wasn't obligated to keep this kind of oath, again, he wouldn't accept her arguments. She asked him for two months, she said, "I will go down onto the mountains," which meant that she was going to go to the Sanhedrin, and show them that she is a pure maiden, perhaps they would annul the vow. In fact she was right, he was not obligated to keep his oath, at most he would have to bring a sacrifice in her stead, but he was ignorant, proud and stubborn, and wouldn't hear from it.

What happened to her? There are two opinions. Some say that he actually killed her, and that every year the Jewish maidens would lament her fate for four days. Other say that he built her a home where she was secluded for the rest of her life, and she never married. According to this opinion, four days a year the Jewish maidens would visit her and talk with her words of comfort over her tragic situation.

The Kohen Gadol at the time was Pinchas, he could of annulled Yiftach's oath, but their pride got in the way. Pinchas said, "he needs me, and I should go to him? (He should come to me)." And Yiftach said, "I am the Chief of Israel, and I should go to Pinchas? (He should come to me), between the two of them, the girl was lost. They were both punished for this, wherever Yiftach went, limbs would fall off his body and would be buried there, and Pinchas lost his Divine inspiration.

This is not included in the Haftora, because it has no connection to the parsha. I included it because Yiftach's oath is mentioned in the Haftora, and because it is interesting.

Yiftach was the judge for six years.

What are some of the lessons from the Haftora?

First, that Hashem doesn't always give us the holiest person as our leader. Rather, He give us the leader that we need and perhaps deserve.

Second, that anyone who wants to do Hashem's will, could have the spirit of Hashem with him, even a person like Yiftach.

Third, although Yiftach was a boorish man, we see from his words and actions that he believed in Hashem. Perhaps the leadership in Israel today, should learn from him how to stand up against the enemies of Israel, with truth and without fear, knowing that Hashem is with them.

From the story of his daughter we learn not to make vows lightly and not to let pride get in the way of better judgment.

May we merit to have great and holy leaders, and may we have true peace and the entirety of our land, with the greatest leader of all, Moshiach. The time has come.


  1. Thank you for the very thoughtful article.


  2. Good Shabbos, thought I would miss this weeks but found last year's and printed it. hope all is well