The Prophets, the Process and the Promised Land
Thoughts on the Weekly Haftorah Relating to Current Events

by Michael Freund
(first posted on Arutz 7)


Parshat Chukat - June 14-15, 2002

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 limbs.

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 Gilead’s 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 Yiftach’s words.
The Haftorah then says that the spirit of G-d was upon Yiftach, and he took the war to the enemy’s 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 Yiftach’s 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, Israel’s 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 king’s 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.

The Question:
Why does Yiftach respond to the Ammonite king with a history lesson?

The Answer:
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 Israel’s 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.

The Lesson:
Knowledge of history is essential to effectively defending Israel’s 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 king’s claims with a history lesson, Yiftach was setting the record straight, because he reminded everyone of the true circumstances surrounding Israel’s 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 it.
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 Israel’s attempts to avoid conflict in 1967, or of then-Egyptian President Nasser’s threats to “wipe Israel off the map”, or of the Syrian and Iraqi troops who massed along Israel’s border, or of the PLO’s terrorist raids against innocent Israeli civilians, or of Jordan’s refusal to heed Israel’s 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 Israel’s current leadership learn from Yiftach’s courageous example.


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:

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