From Jephthah to Rashi to Menachem Begin


“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a woman harlot…” (Judges 11:1)

Yiftach (Jephthah) a renowned warrior is summoned to Gilead by his half brothers, to lead the attack against the Ammonites. He agrees to come back and fight if they agree to make him leader of the Israelites, to which they agree.

Yiftach tries at first to make peace with the Ammonite King by asking him why he wants to go to war with Israel. Yiftach tells him we only want to live in peace with our neighbours. The King tells him that Israel has stolen their land and they want it back. Yiftach tells the King

“So said Jephthah, Israel did not take the land of Moab and the land of the children of Ammon…the Lord, the God of Israel, delivered Sichon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they struck them; and Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that land. And they possessed all the border of the Amorites, from the Arnon up to the Jabbok, and from the wilderness up to the Jordan. And now the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven out the Amorites from before His people Israel, and you want to possess it?”

This is our land. The God of Israel told us to come and live here, He gave this Land to us.  If your god gave you a land, that would be yours to possess.

The King refuses to listen to him. They do battle and the Ammonites are heavily defeated.

The simple message in this Haftorah is as relevant to today as it was then. We are not living in Israel because of the atrocities of the Holocaust or the Balfour Declaration and certainly not because of the U.N. partition. We are there (and yearn to be there) because Hashem gave the land to us, the Jewish people.

When the Jews did not live in Israel for about 1900 years it was just an abandoned wasteland. It was always just a part of another empire, another land, without its own language or currency. When the Jews came home in the late 1800’s the land responded and it was again a land flowing with milk and honey.

A lot of people including myself are thinking about moving to Israel because of the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. The lesson I learn from this weeks Haftorah is a reminder for every Jewish person, we do not have to leave Europe because of anti-Semitism, we need to leave and return to our homeland, Erez Yisrael, because this is the land that Hashem has given to us. A Land where we collectively as a nation fulfil our destiny.

This is a lesson repeated in the first Rashi on the Torah which is well known by all primary school aged children:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: The Torah should have begin with “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded. For what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

In more recent times, in June 1977 Menachem Begin in an address to Knesset to approve his newly formed government said:

“Let the world know that we were granted our right to exist by the God of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization 4,000 years ago. The Jewish people have a historic, eternal and inalienable right to the whole of the land of our forefathers. And for that right, which has been sanctified in Jewish blood from generation to generation, we have paid a price unprecedented in the annals of nations.”

This was the argument all those years ago of Yiftach to the King of the Ammonites.

There is no coincidence that this is the Haftorah we read for Parashat Chukkat where we read about the Red Heifer. We do not understand the laws of the Red Heifer. King Solomon didn’t understand the laws of the Red Heifer but we obey them because Hashem told us to.

Why this particular strip of land? Just as with the Red Heifer, only Hashem has the answer.



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