<I>Chukat</I>: Yiphtach and Peace Now

This week's Haftorah is the story of Yiphtach, in which an outcast from Gilead leads the Jews in victory over the Ammonite oppressor. The question is: why this dvar Torah for a parsha that features the Parah Adumah, and the deaths of Miriam, Aharon and Moshe?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
This week's Haftorah is the story of Yiphtach, in which an outcast from Gilead leads the Jews in victory over the Ammonite oppressor. The question is: why this dvar Torah for a parsha that features the Parah Adumah, and the deaths of Miriam, Aharon and Moshe?

Certainly, the parsha does speak of battles for Eretz Yisrael, but what link is there between the Haftorah's story and the majority of the Torah reading?

I think that the analysis of Rabbi Matis Weinberg (in Frameworks, " On the Rocks") holds the key to the above question. He views the main topic of the sedra as death and exile. The Parah Adumah, of course, deals with purification from tumat met, the impurity of a dead body and contact with it. Aznayim L'Torah sees in Parah Adumah the sacrifice of Exile, as it is made outside of the Temple and is mechaper ( atones ) for death. Then come the deaths of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.

The whole episode in which Moshe strikes the rock, and he and Aharon receive the punishment of death in exile, is explained thus by the Ibn Ezra (Bamidbar 20,8 ): "The explanation that seems right to me I will reveal via hints. Know this: when the part knows the All, clings to the All, the part will do miracles and wonders through the All... but here the detail was reduced to detail [hachelek chalak] and struck the rock."

Rabbi Matis sees Moshe Rabbeinu's continued view that miracles needed to be forced, that the Almighty's plan had to be made to happen, as an error. Moshe should have learned, and taught the nation, that the Lord's plan will ultimately come about no matter what, and the only thing for us is to do His will (in this case, speaking to the rock).

This was the lesson of Purim. Haman was the ultimate doer, mover and shaker, manipulating events so that he would be in position to take power, but "v'nahafoch hu", all that he did rebounded against him and caused his downfall. It was, in the end, God's plan for history that won out. This is what Mordechai meant when he told Esther: "Revach v'hatzala ya'amod la'Yehudim...." - "Salvation is sure to come to the Jews from somewhere, but if you don't do what is right, you and your household are lost." (Esther 4:14 )

That is also what Rashi means when he says of the lesson of the rock, and Moshe's punishment: "Had Moshe spoken to the rock, then Israel would have understood: if a rock, which was not built for reward and punishment, nonetheless performs according to the command of its Creator, we should certainly do no less." (Rashi on Devarim 32:51) Moshe didn't have to make things happen; all he had to do was listen to his Creator, who would do the rest.

Similarly , at the end of the parsha, the Jews win a great victory over Sichon the Ammorite (Bamidbar 21:23-30). The Torah says (ibid., verse 27): "And so the poets say, 'Let us go to Cheshbon, the city of Sichon will be built and established.'" The Gemara (Baba Batra 78) sees the poets as those who "calculate the reward of mitzvot and the punishment of sins." In other words, this is the (now learned) lesson of the rock. Rashi, quoting Midrash Rabbah, sees the poets as Bila'am and his father. Bila'am was hired by Sichon to curse Moav, allowing the victory of Sichon.

Aznayim L'Torah explains that Bila'am, who was viewed by all (including himself) as a quintessential doer, really never caused any victories. He could not magically make things happen. But he was the ultimate "antimatter Rebbe". He would bring out the worst in Evil people, making them a fit vessel for the curse and punishment of God to rain down upon them. God's plan came about, with or without the hocus pocus of the master wizard.

All this is important in understanding our Haftorah, and the whole history of the battle for Eretz Yisrael, including those of this week. As Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, our leftist government was in a quandary. Certainly, it did the right thing by capturing the terrorist Hamas-Palestinian Authority "government " (halavai, one would wish, that Israel would close down the whole idiocy of foreign, Arab terrorist sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael). It may be that we can trade these terrorists for Gilad. But the Arabs know that we are soft on terror and terrorists, and they may take their chances in Israeli jail and not return Gilad.

Of course, the only thing these Arabs really value is not people, but land, Eretz Yisrael. The one move that would stop all the terrorism, claiming and annexing more of Eretz Yisrael for every terror attack, is the one move our misguided leftist government will not take (it is too busy making strategy for throwing Jewish settlers off their land, and not busy enough planning a winning strategy).

And the extra-parliamentary Left's response? Gush Shalom has equated Gilad with Arab terrorists in our jails, both of whose families await their freedom (as if those Arabs in our jails have any fear for their lives). And Not in My Name has said they would not pressure the US government to push the PA to return Gilad, as Israel continues to bombard the poor, unfortunate Gazans. While claiming "settlers value land more than lives," the Left has allied itself with those who truly value "land more than life," the Arab terrorists.

All of which leads to the story of Yiphtach. He was thrown out of his rightful estates in Gilead by his relatives (see Rabbi S. R. Hirsch on Shoftim [Judges] 11:1-2), as "detail was reduced to detail [Ibn Ezra, above]: details vied with each other and pettiness became the rule of the land - until it died in infighting and lost in exile [our parsha's two themes]." ( Rabbi Matis Weinberg)

As they make things happen - personally, politically and historically - the "details have truly lost consciousness of the All." Eventually , God punished the Gileadan "disengagement" by sending the Ammonite enemy to wage war on Gilead, which ironically turned to Yiphtach to save it.

The Jews won the war, but Yiphtach made his famous, ill-advised vow, for which his daughter suffered the isolation of celibacy all her life. The Talmud (and Tosafot, Taanit 4a) relates that all Yiphtach had to do was go to Pinchas, the High Priest and sage, to find out that his absurd vow was really null and void from the start. But pettiness prevailed again: the "great Yiphtach" felt that it was beneath his dignity to go to Pinchas, and Pinchas felt it was beneath his to go to Yiphtach. And in the end, a Jewish child suffered.

And the final lesson: Yiphtach made overtures to the Ammonite king in order to prevent war. He detailed all the history of Am Yisrael, God's plan, which will ultimately prevail - that God had given this land to the Jews and that the Jews had never taken one centimeter of land from Ammon (as we have taken none from any Arab Palestinian entity). All the Jews did with Sichon was a war of self-defense (as we did in 1948, 1967, 1973).

And the Ammonite king's response? One can see with whom our Left allies itself in every word of our ancient enemy: "Give the land back. Peace Now." (Shoftim 11:14)

May we merit to see the realization of the Almighty's plan, bimheira b'yameinu, amen.

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