The eleventh perek in Sefer Shoftim relates to us the story of Yiftach HaGiladi, a person rejected by his family who eventually becomes the shofet, the leader and the warrior who saves Israel from her enemy, B’nai Ammon. The connection to our parsha is rather clear as Yiftach, in his negotiations with the enemy, repeats-almost verbatim-the historical events that are described in the parsha, to wit, the care taken by the Israelites NOT to war with B’nai Ammon (nor with Edom nor with Moav) as their land was promised to their ancestors, Lot and Eisav. Israel’s claim of that area that once belonged to Ammon, and the reason they had lived there for over 300 years, was based upon their defeat of Sichon, the King of the Emori, who had previously conquered that land from Ammon and Moav.
The choice of Yiftach as leader was not an obvious one as he was an “outsider” to his family and his community who banished him from their dwellings. In fact, Yiftach himself questions the leadership approached him, given the fact that, as he himself says “v’atem sneitem oti,” “you hated me.” Truthfully, the leaders’ choice of Yiftach was done reluctantly, as they considered him as being below their station in life and an outcast from their society. Nonetheless, as the Ammonim threatened the eastern tribes, specifically the area of Gilad, and, as Yiftach had already gathered a small fighting force who followed his leadership, the local leaders finally approach him and ask him to defend Gilad from the threat of the enemy. Yiftach successfully defeated the forces of Ammon who refused to listen to Yiftach’s argument and Yiftach remains as leader of his people for six years after defeating the enemy.
There is more to this fascinating story and much we can learn from it. But I am most moved by a simple lesson that we may miss if we do not study the text carefully. Who will save Israel and who will be its hero is not something that is up to us. Hashem makes His choice based upon His understanding of a person’s character and who will best to carry out Hashem’s plan. Perhaps he will be someone we may regard as unfitting, or an outsider or below our station. It makes no difference. It is not we who appoint Hashem’s emissary but only He who does.
When we look back into our long history, we will find that those who have become our heroes were not always the obvious choices. This idea is expressed clearly in Sefer M’lachim B (14; 26-27) where the navi describes the accomplishments of the wicked, idolatrous king, Yerov’am II. “He extended Israel’s borders…as Hashem had promised to the navi Yonah. For Hashem saw that Israel’s suffering was severe, with none surviving….and THERE WAS NO ONE WHO HELPED ISRAEL. And Hashem never thought to destroy Israel…and so He saved them through Yerov’am…”
Hashem loves His children and He will save them through those He deems proper, whether we do or not! Ours is but to recognize Hashem’s hand in that salvation-even if it comes from an unexpected source.
By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler