Weekly Torah Commentary – Chukat June 30, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

Haftorah reading: Judges 11: 1-33

All of us have flaws and failures. There are those who are crippled by them, others can rise above them and continue to live with confidence. But all of us have them.

Flaws are the imperfections – the weaknesses we are born with, bad experiences we had, unfortunate backgrounds we come from. These are not what we would have chosen.  We have no choice. They are not under our control.

Failures are the mistakes we made in life. We chose them wrongly and foolishly. We struggle and we suffer, because we made wrong decisions. But remember this, flaws and failures in life don’t define us, ultimately. We need not stay as victims of the past, nor victims of our flaws and failures.

That’s what we can learn from Jephthah, the judge in Judges 11.  Let’s look at this story in three ways: his flaw – his unfavorable past, then his failure, the unfortunate vow he made, and lastly his faith, his simple yet unflinching faith in God.

His past is something Jephthah cannot change. His birth. His background. He is an illegitimate child. Born to a prostitute. His father sinned and he was the result. Although his father Gilead brought him home, he wasn’t really a part of the family. Gilead’s wife and her sons rejected him. They said, “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family.” (11:2)  And this was likely said because their father Gilead has died. No one is left to defend him. No one in the family can now speak out for him. So the sons drove Jephthah away. Jephthah is an outcast, not just to the family, but also to the society as well.

According to Mosaic Law, Deut 23:2 “No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.” So Jephthat is a despised man. That explains why he ended up with a “group of adventurers” (worthless crooks and villains). He became a gang-leader, hanging around with fellow outcasts.

This is his unfavorable past, something he cannot change, something beyond his control. But that doesn’t define him. Our past doesn’t define us. We may be affected by it and influenced by it, we cannot ignore it, but it does not define WHO we are. But if we hold on to the past, if we believe in the past, if we are hindered by our past, then our faith is not in God. Our faith is in “FATE”.  We are then believing in a “force” over our lives that is greater than God.

God does not take away the past, undo the past, ignore the past; He REDEEMS the past. In fact, He makes use of our past and make something new out of it. God uses our past to prepare us, refine us, teach us, and mold us into who we are today if we will have more faith in Him than in our ‘past’.

Look what happened to Jephthah. After some time, the elders of Gilead come looking for him. The Ammonites made war on Israel and the elders wanted him to lead the fight.

Judges 11:7 Jephthah asks: “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” They have no answer. Judges 11:8 “The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.”

Jephthah sought confirmation. Judges 11:11 “So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.”

Then Jephthah made a foolish mistake. As he prepares for the fight, he made a rash vow to God that was uncalled for and unnecessary.  He must have thought he needed to bribe God in order to receive His help but it was a violation of the Mosaic Law.

Deut. 23:21-23 “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.”

He vowed that whatever came out of his house, he would offer as a burnt offering. His only daughter came out dancing with joy when he returned triumphant from the battle.

Jephthah

Jephthah kept his promise to God! He offered his daughter to the Lord. Some says literally as a burnt offering, while others say she was dedicated to God (not going to marry but dedicating her life to serving God). I believe that latter meaning is more acceptable, because (1) human sacrifice is an abomination to the Lord and prohibited in the Law, (2) the daughter says she will never marry (not die), and the text ends with Jephthah “did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.” (11:39)

But this is not what defines him. His unflinching faith in God does.

His faith in God was evident at home. Look at his daughter’s response:

Judges 11:36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.”

It was not a simple thing. Jephthah had no other children and for his only daughter not to be married, it would mean the end of his family line.  And for her to agree with her father and willingly accept her fate is noteworthy.

Jephthah’s FAITH in God is what defines the man. And it’s our FAITH in God that defines us. God can and will redeem our past, use our flaws, and teach us through our failures.

In Tune with Torah this week = Jephthah teaches us to live free of our failures, our past and and our flaws.  To recognize that anything and everything that has happened in our lives contributes to our spiritual growth if we will seek the LORD in the midst of it is a desirable and worthy attitude to cultivate.  God is not about making us ‘happy’ but making us ‘holy’.  True happiness is found in knowing Him and growing into the mature son and daughter of a Heavenly Father.

Shabbat Shalom