Haftarah Parshat Hukat
June 15, 2002 in Israel
Jephtah seems to be the antithesis of an appropriate leader. He is without lineage. He lives on the edge of society. He is an outcast. Yet when crisis comes upon the people of Israel and they are in search of a solution, Jephtah is there to save the people of Israel. Why? Is it that he is a cunning master of real politic who is discerning of how to achieve the necessary goals? Is it because he was especially equipped to manipulate and maneuver what seemed like an implacable enemy? Is it because he is a talented military tactician? Is Yephtah, in fact, the “real” hero of the story? Perhaps the true hero of the story is to be found elsewhere.
The “real story” behind this Biblical stories is to be read in-between the lines. Rabbi Yehoshua bar Aviram makes us aware of this in the following obscure midrash: Rabbi Yehoshua bar Aviram said: “The troops- the officers of Gilead- said to one another, ‘Let the man who is the first to fight the Ammonites be chieftain over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” “(Judges 10:18) Who is fitting for this role? “And Jephtah the Gileadite was an able warrior.” (adapted from Esther Rabbah 5:4)
When the Ammonites came to do battle against the children of Israel, there was a great crisis. The people did not know to whom to turn to save them after the many years that they had lived in fear and subjugation. Immediately after a description of the people’s leadership crisis, the story begins its description of Jephtah. It is as if Jephtah arose out of nowhere. Rabbi Yehoshua took note of the juxtaposition of these two episodes and concluded that this literary structure was not coincidental. Rather, he assumed that the manner of the telling of this story had theological implications. God had caused the right person to be in the right place at the right time in order to save Israel. God was the true hero of this story. God had especially prepared Jephtah for his destined role. He had created the “remedy” in preparation for the crisis. This is why, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, the Biblical story placed the description of who Jephtah was immediately after the crisis with the Ammonites.
This belief in providence, the sense that God figures in the events that shape our destiny, is implicit in Rabbi Yehoshua’s interpretation of the events of this story. It is also an integral part of our affirmation of God’s role in history and in our lives.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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