Haftarah Parshat Hukat (Judges 11:1-33)
July 16, 2016 / 10 Tammuz 5776
Please note: In Israel we read Parshat Balak
Jephthah was born an outsider. The older brother, born to a mother other than the mother of his brothers, his family ostracized him as did others. As a result, he lived on the periphery of society, gathering around him others of similar background. He became a strong man, a brigand and when a time came that the nation’s fate was threatened by outside enemies, it was these qualities which sent the elders who had previously rejected him to seek him out as a savior.
One gets a sense that the negotiations with the elders did not go easily: “And they said to Jephthah: ‘Come, be our captain, that we may do battle with the Ammonites.’ And Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead: ‘Did you not hate me and drive me out from my father’s house and why do you come to me now when you are in distress?’ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah: ‘Therefore now we have come back to you, and you shall go back with us to do battle with the Ammonites, and you shall become chief for us, for all the inhabitants of Gilead’ [He replied]: ‘If you bring me back to do battle with the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me, it is I who will be your chief.’ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘May the Lord be witness between us that we will surely do according to your word.’” (11:6-10)
Rabbi Don Yitzhak Abrabanel, who was both a statesmen and a sage (Portugal, Spain 15th century), paid close attention to this carefully calibrated exchange over authority and power. He notes that in these negotiations each party sought the upper hand. Abrabanel notes that the crucial point is who has a handle on the appointment. If the elders appoint Jephthah, they maintain control and have the option of dismissing him, but if he is acclaimed leader after a glorious victory, he would become the undisputed leader with few strings attached.
Whether this describes the actual intricacies of the negotiations between the two parties cannot be determined, but it does give a glimpse into Abrabanel’s world which included important government positions in both Portugal and Spain on the cusp of the Jewish expulsion from both countries. Savvy advocacy can make all of the difference, and knowing how to play the game wisely can be an incredible advantage both in a winning situation and a losing one.