Haftorah: Yiftach Declared a Vow to Hashem
By: Rav Avraham Rivlin
This week's Haftorah describes Yiftach's war against Bnei Amon. In the context of his negotiations with the enemy before the battle, Yiftach brings support from what is written in the parsha about Yisrael's fight against the Emori, in which Hashem gave this tract of land into the hands of Israel. This is the connection between the parsha and the Haftorah. However, the focus and most interesting point of the Haftorah's story is undoubtedly the character of Yiftach and his vow.
Chazal define Yiftach as the least of the judges: "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation. This is to teach you that even the lightest of people, when he is appointed a leader of the community -- he is like the greatest of nobles." (Rosh Hashana 25b) This description, "the lightest of people," which has a negative connotation, was given to him due to his deficiency in Torah and Yirat Shamayim. In the Midrash Tanchuma in the end of Parshat Bechukotai, Chazal address this issue at great length. Because of the importance of these issues (some of which are not so well known), we will quote the Midrash in its entirety.
If a person does not have Torah in his hand -- he has nothing! So you find regarding Yiftach Hagiladi; because he was not a ben Torah he lost his daughter. When? At the time that he fought with Bnei Amon and vowed at that time, as it says: Yiftach declared a vow to Hashem and said, "If You will indeed deliver Bnei Amon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever emerges ... from the doors of my house toward me when I return in peace from Bnei Amon, it shall belong to Hashem and I shall offer it up as an elevation offering." (Shoftim 11:30-31) At that time G-d was very angry with him. He said: If a dog or a pig or a camel would come out of his house would he offer it before Me? Therefore, He arranged that it be his daughter. Why was all this? So that all those who took vows would learn the laws of vows, so as not to act mistakenly with vows.
"Behold! His daughter was coming out toward him ... When he saw her he tore his clothes and said, 'Alas, my daughter! ... I have opened my mouth to Hashem and I cannot recant.'" (11:35) Pinchas was there, and still he (Yiftach) says, "I cannot recant?" Rather, Pinchas said: I am the High Priest, son of the High Priest, how shall I go to an ignoramus?! Yiftach said: I am the leader of the judges of Israel, head of the officers, I shall lower myself and go to a simpleton?! Between the two of them this misfortunate girl was lost from the world. Both were held accountable for her death: Pinchas -- the Divine Spirit left him; Yiftach -- his bones were scattered, as it says, "He was buried in the cities of Gilad." (12:7)
When he sought to sacrifice her, she cried before him. His daughter said to him: My father, I came toward you with joy, and you slaughter me? Did G-d write in his Torah that Israel should sacrifice human lives before G-d? Does it not say in the Torah, "When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: from animals" etc. (Vayikra 1:2) -- "From animals" and not from humans! He said to her: My daughter, I vowed, "Whatever emerges ... I shall offer it up as an elevation offering." Can one who vows not fulfill his vow?
She said to him: But Yaakov Avinu, who vowed, "Whatever you will give me, I shall tithe to You" (Bereishit 28: 22) and G-d gave him twelve sons -- did he sacrifice one of them to G-d? Moreover, Chana, who said, "She made a vow and said, Hashem ... if you take note of the suffering of your maidservant ... then I shall give him to Hashem all the days of his life" (Shmuel I 1:11) -- did she sacrifice her son before G-d? She [Yiftach's daughter] said all of these things to him, but he did not listen to her. When she saw that he didn't listen to her, she said to him, allow me to go down to the Beit Din, perhaps they will find an opening for your vow.
She went to them, but they did not find an opening for Yiftach to release his vow, on account of the sin that he slaughtered of the tribe of Ephraim. About him it says, "A pauper who robs the destitute is like a torrential rain, which leaves no food." (Mishlei 28:3) "A pauper who robs the destitute" -- this refers to Yiftach who was a pauper in Torah, like the stump of a sycamore tree, who would rob the destitute, as is says, "[The men of Gilad] would say to him: Now say 'shibolet,' but he said, 'sibolet' -- for he could not enunciate properly, and he would slaughter them." Therefore, "like a torrential rain, which leaves no food" -- he had one who could release his vow, but "leaves no food" -- G-d hid the halacha from them, so that they would not find an opening to release him of his vow.
He went up and slaughtered her, and the Holy Spirit screams out: Did I want you to offer lives before Me? "Which I had not commanded, nor spoken, nor had entered my mind." (Yirmiya 19:5) "I had not commanded" -- Avraham to slaughter his son, but rather I said to him, "Do not stretch out your hand" (Bereishit 22:12), to show all the nations Avraham's love that he didn't withhold his son from Me to do the will of his Creator. "Nor spoken" -- to Yiftach to sacrifice his daughter.
To conclude, it is worthwhile to point out that the opinion of most Biblical commentators (Radak, Ralbag, Abarbanel, Malbim, Metzudot) is that, "He carried out with her his vow" does not mean an actual sacrifice, but rather that he set her aside for the service of Hashem. (The Abarbanel even points out that this is the source for the Christian practice regarding the seclusion of the monks.) Indeed, even the lightest of the light is like the most noble of noblemen.
Shiur ID: 3812