The Haftorah that is read in Israel this week is from the Book of Judges,
Chap. 11:1-33. Yemenite Jews read Chap.11:1-40. Outside of Israel, the
Haftorah for Parshat Korach is read.
Yiftach (Jephthah) was born to Gilead of the tribe of Menashe. The text
states that his mother was a zonah, which the commentaries
interpret to mean either a harlot, a concubine or an innkeeper. According
to the Talmud in Tractate Rosh HaShanah (25b), Yiftach in his generation
was like Samuel [the prophet] in his generation. However, Yiftach
is sharply criticized for killing his daughter after he had made a vow
that inadvertently obliged him to do so (see Chap. 11:31-40). Rashi,
commenting on Chapter 11:39, says that had Yiftach approached Pinchas
the High Priest, or vice versa, then Pinchas would have been able to release
Yiftach from his vow, thereby saving his daughter. But, says
Rashi, they refused to humble themselves and were thus both
responsible for her ruin. Each thought the other should come to
him, so neither budged. As a result, says Rashi, both were punished,
with Yiftach having been afflicted with ulcerations and the loss of his
The Haftorah begins by relating that Yiftach was a man of valor.
His father was Gilead, and his mother was a zonah (see
above), so when he grew older, his stepbrothers threw him out, because
his mother was not Gileads wife. Yiftach fled to a land called Tov,
where a group of men gathered around him and he became their leader. Then,
some time later, the nation of Ammon waged war against Israel, and the
elders sought out Yiftach, whom they implored to return and lead the army.
Yiftach rebuked them, pointing out they had done nothing when his stepbrothers
had thrown him out, but now that they were in trouble, they turned to
him for help. The elders replied that this was why they (rather than a
messenger) had come to seek his assistance, as they regretted what they
had done. Yiftach agreed to their request and was appointed chief over
them as well as head of the army.
He immediately dispatched messengers of peace to the Ammonite king, seeking
to dissuade him from waging war. But the king demanded the return of the
cities that Israel had captured 300 years earlier, after it had left Egypt
and was preparing to enter the Land of Israel. Yiftach replied that Israel
taken nothing from the Ammonites, reminding the king that these areas
had actually been captured from Sichon the king of the Emorites (who had
taken them previously from the Ammonites). And now that the L-rd,
the G-d of Israel, has driven out the Emorites from before his people
Israel - you wish to possess it?
. that which the L-rd our G-d has
driven out before us, we shall possess it (Chap. 11:23-24), Yiftach
told the Ammonite king. But the king refused to heed Yiftachs words.
The Haftorah then says that the spirit of G-d was upon Yiftach, and he
took the war to the enemys land. He then made a vow to G-d that
if he would defeat Ammon, then the first thing to pass through his doorway
to greet him upon his return would be offered as a sacrifice. Yiftach
proceeded to overcome the Ammonites, because G-d delivered them into his
hands. The Haftorah closes by stating that Yiftachs victory over
Ammon was extensive, and Ammon was subdued.
Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:
In the Haftorah, Yiftach describes an event which occurred in the Parsha
namely, Israels capture of territory from the Emorite king
Sichon (which the latter had previously seized from the Ammonites).
1. Learning From History
After Yiftach is appointed by the elders as their leader, he sends
a messenger of peace to the king of Ammon, asking, What is between
me and you that you have come to me to fight in my land? (Chap.
11:12). The king replies that he wants Israel to turn over to him the
territory they had conquered centuries before, telling the messenger,
Because Israel took away my land when they came out of Egypt, from
Arnon and up to the Jabok, and up to the Jordan. And now, return them
in peace (Chap. 11:13). Yiftach replies with a detailed account
of what had occurred, correcting the Ammonite kings version of events
and pointing out that Israel captured the land in question from Sichon
the Emorite king (who had previously taken it from the Ammonites), and
that it had been won only after Israel came under attack and was forced
to defend itself.
Why does Yiftach respond to the Ammonite king with a history lesson?
Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv, in his book Bein Haftorah LeParsha, says that
the possibility of conceding [the land] does not even enter the
minds of Yiftach and the Children of Israel. For although Israel had no
intention at the time of capturing the territory and had Sichon
[king of the Emorites] acceded to their request and permitted them to
pass through his land, it would not have been captured once he
[Sichon] went out to meet them in battle, his land was taken, and it was
through a defensive war. Thus, we see that Yiftach was laying the
intellectual groundwork for justifying Israels continued possession
of the territory, justifying it as an acquisition that came in a war of
self-defense. But the bottom line, as Yiftach makes clear, is far more
compelling: that which the L-rd our G-d has driven out before us,
we shall possess it (Chap. 11:23-24). In other words, the Land in
question belongs to the Jewish people because G-d has given it to them.
Knowledge of history is essential to effectively defending Israels
position and image. As we saw above, some 300 years had passed since Israel
had captured the territory which the Ammonite king sought to regain.
Thus, in his message to Yiftach, the Ammonite king sought to distort what
had occurred, playing on the natural human tendency to forget. He falsely
claimed that Israel had seized the land directly from his people (rather
than from the Emorites), implying just as the Arabs do today
that Israel was illegally occupying territory it had taken
in an alleged act of aggression.
By rebutting the Ammonite kings claims with a history lesson, Yiftach
was setting the record straight, because he reminded everyone of the true
circumstances surrounding Israels control over those areas.
But he was also teaching later generations of Jews a lesson as well
namely, that the truth is on our side, and we should not hesitate to use
For, as we see on a daily basis, the international media repeats the same
falsehood over and over again, claiming that Israel occupied
Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1967. They say nothing of what led up to the
war, or who started it, or of Israels attempts to avoid conflict
in 1967, or of then-Egyptian President Nassers threats to wipe
Israel off the map, or of the Syrian and Iraqi troops who massed
along Israels border, or of the PLOs terrorist raids against
innocent Israeli civilians, or of Jordans refusal to heed Israels
plea to stay out of the war.
In fact, they completely ignore that Israel came in to possession of these
areas in 1967 in an act of self-defense, and no mention is made that the
Arab states used these territories as platforms from which to launch a
war of extermination against the Jewish state.
Though only 35 years have elapsed, the facts have already been obscured
by a layer of dust and propaganda, with the result being that too many
people have come to believe the Arab version of events. It is therefore
essential that we study the facts and disseminate them as widely as possible,
countering the falsehoods with facts and the tall tales with truth.
But even when using history to defend ourselves, we must always bear in
mind that there is a far more basic truth at work, as Yiftach demonstrated
above. By telling the Ammonite king that Israel would hold on to the territory
it had inherited because that which the L-rd our G-d has driven
out before us, we shall possess it, Yiftach was unabashedly telling
the world that as strong as our historical case might be, our claim to
this Land ultimately rests on a far deeper and more compelling truth
that the Creator of the Universe has given it to us, the Jewish people.
And that which He has given to us, we shall not readily give away.
May Israels current leadership learn from Yiftachs courageous
Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy
Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999. He is currently
an editorial writer and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post. Comments/Feedback/Subscribe: