Sunday, June 20, 2010

Parshat Balak 5770 - Friends and Family

Parshat Balak 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn
                              Friends and Family

In Parshat Balak, a catastrophe is narrowly averted: A professional hit-man of sorts is hired to curse the People of Israel. In the end, his nefarious plan is thwarted and the curses are turned into blessings. In order to fully understand this episode we must appreciate the context: What happened prior to this episode, and more importantly, who are the protagonists?

The forty years of wandering are all but over. Those who have been sentenced to death have perished; the survivors, their children, march on. As they near the Land, the exact route must be clarified: As many travelers know, the shortest distance is not always the best route. In Parshat Chukat, Moshe plots out the most direct route to the Land of Israel, and sends messengers to some of the locals along this route, seeking permission to pass through their land. The first to be approached is Edom, descendents of Esav. Right of passage is denied: Perhaps still smarting over the stolen blessings, the children of Esav respond that if the Israelites even attempt to approach there will be war. The Children of Israel may wish to return home, but Edom has no interest in helping them.

The next nation along the proposed route, the Canaanites, does not even wait for Moshe’s messengers and send troops as soon as they hear that the Israelites are near; to avoid confrontation, a bypass route is chosen to the north:

במדבר כא: י – י"ג 
וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּאֹבֹת: וַיִּסְעוּ מֵאֹבֹת וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעִיֵּי הָעֲבָרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי מוֹאָב מִמִּזְרַח הַשָּׁמֶשׁ: מִשָּׁם נָסָעוּ וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּנַחַל זָרֶד: מִשָּׁם נָסָעוּ וַיַּחֲנוּ מֵעֵבֶר אַרְנוֹן אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר הַיֹּצֵא מִגְּבֻל הָאֱמֹרִי כִּי אַרְנוֹן גְּבוּל מוֹאָב בֵּין מוֹאָב וּבֵין הָאֱמֹרִי:
And the Children of Israel traveled, and camped in Ovot. And they journeyed from Ovot, and camped at Iye haAvarim, in the wilderness which is before Moav, toward the sunrise. From there they traveled, and camped in the Valley of Zared. From there they traveled, and camped on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that comes out of the borders of the Emorites; for Arnon is the border of Moav, between Moav and the Emorites. (Bamidbar 21:10-13)

The Israelites now find themselves between two tribes, the Moavites and the Emorites. Once again, their messengers of peace are rebuffed, but these tribes go further than the others: they attack. In defending themselves, the Israelites capture the enemy’s cities; the conquest of the Promised Land has begun:

במדבר כא: כא-כו
וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְאָכִים אֶל סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי לֵאמֹר: אֶעְבְּרָה בְאַרְצֶךָ לֹא נִטֶּה בְּשָׂדֶה וּבְכֶרֶם לֹא נִשְׁתֶּה מֵי בְאֵר בְּדֶרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ נֵלֵךְ עַד אֲשֶׁר נַעֲבֹר גְּבֻלֶךָ: וְלֹא נָתַן סִיחֹן אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבֹר בִּגְבֻלוֹ וַיֶּאֱסֹף סִיחֹן אֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא לִקְרַאת יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמִּדְבָּרָה וַיָּבֹא יָהְצָה וַיִּלָּחֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל: וַיַּכֵּהוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְפִי חָרֶב וַיִּירַשׁ אֶת אַרְצוֹ מֵאַרְנֹן עַד יַבֹּק עַד בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן כִּי עַז גְּבוּל בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: וַיִּקַּח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל הֶעָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל עָרֵי הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן וּבְכָל בְּנֹתֶיהָ: כִּי חֶשְׁבּוֹן עִיר סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי הִוא וְהוּא נִלְחַם בְּמֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב הָרִאשׁוֹן וַיִּקַּח אֶת כָּל אַרְצוֹ מִיָּדוֹ עַד אַרְנֹן:
And Israel sent messengers to Sihon, King of the Emorites, saying, “Let me pass through your land; we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well; but we will go along by the king’s highway, until we are past your borders.” And Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his border; but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness; and he came to Yahaz, and fought against Israel. And Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon to Yabbok, to the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon was strong. And Israel took all these cities; and Israel lived in all the cities of the Emorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the King of the Emorites, who had fought against the former king of Moav, and taken all his land out of his hand, up to Arnon. (Bamidbar 21:21-26)

The text alludes to some intrigue regarding the land captured in this battle against Sihon and the Emorites: certain tracts had previously belonged to the neighboring tribe, Moav. All this information-military, territorial, tribal - provides the backdrop for this week’s parsha.

במדבר כב: א-ד
וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעַרְבוֹת מוֹאָב מֵעֵבֶר לְיַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ: (סוף פרשת חוקת)
(פרשת בלק) וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי: וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב הוּא וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת כָּל סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ כִּלְחֹךְ הַשּׁוֹר אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה וּבָלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ לְמוֹאָב בָּעֵת הַהִוא:
And the Children of Israel traveled, and camped in the plains of Moav on this side of the Jordan by Jericho. (End of Parshat Chukat)
(Parshat Balak)And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites. And Moav was very afraid of the People, because they were many; and Moav was distressed because of the People of Israel. And Moav said to the elders of Midian, “Now shall this company lick up all who are around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moavites at that time. (Bamidbar 22:1-4)

The larger picture has various tribes in the mix: Edom, Canaan, Emori, Moav and Midian. Edom was approached with words of peace; they responded with venom. Canaan waged a preemptive strike but were foiled. The Emori were also approached in peace - but chose war. Now Moav feels that they are next. Apparently, they believe battle will be futile, yet they still wish to resist in some way.

Moav, who most likely were waiting for the opportunity to regain the lands first taken by the Emorites, find that someone else has beaten them to it. Rather than taking pleasure in the defeat of their enemies, the Moavites adopt a different strategy: they reach out to Midian, forming a confederation with the tribe that had been their bitter enemy and erstwhile conqueror, against their new common enemy, the Israelites. Anyone familiar with biblical history can appreciate the irony of this union; these two tribes had a long history of bad blood between them:

רש"י, במדבר כב: ד
אל זקני מדין - והלא מעולם היו שונאים זה את זה, שנאמר (בראשית לו: לה) 'המכה את מדין בשדה מואב', שבאו מדין על מואב למלחמה. אלא מיראתן של ישראל עשו שלום ביניהם.
And Moav said to the elders of Midian”: But did not these (Moav and Midian) always hate one another, as is stated, [Bereishit 36:35] "who had smitten Midian in the country of Moav", from which it is evident that Midian had come against Moav in war? But out of fear of Israel they now made peace between themselves. )Rashi, Bamidbar 22:4)[1]

Midian’s motivation to join the fray at this juncture is interesting: Even a cursory glance at a map of the region makes it clear that while Moav may have been the next tribe Israel would encounter, the Midianites were at least one tribe removed, and would meet the Israelites only after Moav. Thus, it is in Midian’s interest to head off the Israelites, to bring their advance to a halt before it reaches their own soil. The mode of action they choose to accomplish this goal is intriguing; they attempt to “curse” the Jewish People rather than fight them. This choice of action displays certain insight into the community of Israel. Rashi explains:

רש"י, במדבר כב: ד
ומה ראה מואב ליטול עצה ממדין, כיון שראו את ישראל נוצחים שלא כמנהג העולם, אמרו מנהיגם של אלו במדין נתגדל, נשאל מהם מה מדתו. אמרו לו אין כחו אלא בפיו. אמרו אף אנו נבא עליהם באדם שכחו בפיו:
And what induced Moav to take counsel of Midian? When they saw that Israel was victorious in a supernatural manner they said, “The leader of these people grew up in Midian; let us ask them what is his chief characteristic.” They replied to them; "His power lies only in his mouth (in prayer)"; Whereupon they said, "Then we must come against them with a man whose power lies in his mouth" (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:4)

Moav has done excellent intelligence-gathering; they discover that Moshe spent many years in Midian, and had lived with the “priest” of Midian. They perceive the challenge they face as spiritual, and therefore seek a solution in the occult.

However, the issues may run even deeper. Who are the Moavites, and who are the Midianites? Where did they come from? Are these tribes well-established in the lands in question? What is their belief system? Are they simply generic pagans, or do they both come from a more evolved heritage? When we consider the other tribes mentioned --the Canaanites and Emorites—certain differences begin to catch our attention: The Canaanites and the Emorites have been living in the region for generations; they are ‘locals’ who resist the infiltration of this (or any) new tribe. In fact, Canaan is as far removed from the Israelites as anyone could be in those days. Canaan was the son of the Cham, a family line cursed for all time:

בראשית ט: כב-כה
וַיַּרְא חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן אֵת עֶרְוַת אָבִיו וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי אֶחָיו בַּחוּץ: וַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת הַשִּׂמְלָה וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם וּפְנֵיהֶם אֲחֹרַנִּית וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם לֹא רָאוּ: וַיִּיקֶץ נֹחַ מִיֵּינוֹ וַיֵּדַע אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן: וַיֹּאמֶר אָרוּר כְּנָעַן עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו: וַיֹּאמֶר בָּרוּךְ ה’אֱלֹקֵי שֵׁם וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ:
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Yafet took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.  And he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers". And he said, “Blessed be the God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his slave.” (Bereishit 9:22-26)

Beyond the security and economic concerns, Canaan could not have been overjoyed by the prospect of the descendants of Shem making their way to their land; they now had to worry about the fruition of Noah's curse, as well. The Emorites shared this concern: They are none other than the sons of Canaan:

בראשית י טו-יח
וּכְנַעַן יָלַד אֶת צִידֹן בְּכֹרוֹ וְאֶת חֵת: וְאֶת הַיְבוּסִי וְאֶת הָאֱמֹרִי וְאֵת הַגִּרְגָּשִׁי: וְאֶת הַחִוִּי וְאֶת הַעַרְקִי וְאֶת הַסִּינִי: וְאֶת הָאַרְוָדִי וְאֶת הַצְּמָרִי וְאֶת הַחֲמָתִי וְאַחַר נָפֹצוּ מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי:
And Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn, and Het, And the Yevusite, and the Emorite, and the Girgashite, And the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite; and afterwards the families of the Canaanites spread. (Bereishit 10:15-18)

Despite whatever strife there was between these families, they shared a common ancestral heritage and, as a result, a common enemy against whom they were willing to fight. Moreover, the Emori had an even greater vested interest in keeping the Israelites at a safe distance: They had received special mention in the Covenant between God and Avraham in which the Land of Israel was promised to Avraham's descendents:

בראשית טו: יג
וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה: וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל: וְאַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶל אֲבֹתֶיךָ בְּשָׁלוֹם תִּקָּבֵר בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה: וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה כִּי לֹא שָׁלֵם עֲוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי עַד הֵנָּה:
And he said to Avram, “Know for a certainty that your descendents shall be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great wealth. And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again; for the iniquity of the Emorites is not yet full. (Bereishit 15:13-16)

The Land of Israel does not tolerate wickedness, though God apparently allows sinners a certain degree of latitude, giving them ample opportunity to mend their ways. Only in cases of extreme behavior does collective punishment follow; hence, the unfolding of the intertwined histories of the descendants of Shem, through Avraham, and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham. The Emorites understood that every step the Israelites took towards the Promised Land signified another tick of the clock that counted down the time to the final reckoning for their own iniquity. The "grace period" God had given them was almost over; the approach of the Israelites was a sure sign. If only they could push back the Israelites, they reasoned, they could push off the inevitable end.

Who were the Moavites and Midianites? Moav was the son of Lot, the product of his incestuous liaison with his daughter. Lot was Avraham’s nephew, an orphaned child whom Avraham took under his wing.  Lot was raised under Avraham’s roof; he was well-acquainted with Avraham's moral and spiritual greatness. He and his descendents knew of the promise made by God to Avraham. They knew that the power of the Israelites went beyond the physical plane. Why did they turn to specifically to Midian to combat the descendents of Avraham, their own forefather's great-uncle? The answer lies in the identity of Midian, a tribe even more closely related to Avraham:

בראשית כה: א-ב
וַיֹּסֶף אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה וּשְׁמָהּ קְטוּרָה: וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ אֶת זִמְרָן וְאֶת יָקְשָׁן וְאֶת מְדָן וְאֶת מִדְיָן וְאֶת יִשְׁבָּק וְאֶת שׁוּחַ:
Then Avraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, and Yokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Yishbak, and Shuah. (Bereishit 25:1-2)

Lot, father of Moav, was Avraham's nephew, but Midian was Avraham's son! In his old age, when Avraham put his affairs in order before his death, he gave his children gifts:[2]

בראשית כה: ה-ז
ויתן אברהם את כל אשר לו ליצחק: וְלִבְנֵי הַפִּילַגְשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לְאַבְרָהָם נָתַן אַבְרָהָם מַתָּנֹת וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם מֵעַל יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ בְּעוֹדֶנּוּ חַי קֵדְמָה אֶל אֶרֶץ קֶדֶם: וְאֵלֶּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אַבְרָהָם אֲשֶׁר חָי מְאַת שָׁנָה וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים:
And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzhak. But to the sons of the concubines, Avraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Yitzhak his son, while he yet lived; eastward, to the east country. And these are the years of Avraham's life that he lived, one hundred years and seventy years and five years. (Bereishit 25:6,7)

Avraham saw Yitzchak as his only true son – he being the son of his soul-mate Sarah - and he bequeathed to him all he had. To his other sons he gave no land, only “gifts”, and sent them away,[3] to the east of Israel. What were these gifts?

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף צא עמוד א
מאי מתנות? אמר רבי ירמיה בר אבא: מלמד שמסר להם שם טומאה.
What gifts [did he give them]? — R. Yirmiyah b. Abba said: This teaches that he imparted to them [the secrets of] the unhallowed arts (impure names). (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 91a)[4]

As the Israelites march back toward the land bequeathed to them by Avraham, Midian appears. They have been "squatting" on this land for several generations, knowing full well that it was the rightful property of the descendents of Yitzhak and Yaakov. Aware that their possession of the land is a feeble claim when compared to the birthright of the Israelites, they understand that to defeat the Israelites they will need more than physical power or tactical military prowess; they will need spiritual weapons as well. These children of Ketura are aware of their own spiritual powers, and know that these powers are inadequate for the task at hand; they seek spiritual power in numbers, and create a confederation of the larger Avrahamic family. Armed with the magical powers[5] bequeather to them by Avraham, they undertake a strategy of non-conventional warfare to defeat the Israelites, turning to a prominent spiritual figure, Bil’am the son of Beor, an outsider to the conflict from a more distant territory:

במדבר כב: ה
וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹ לִקְרֹא לוֹ לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמֻּלִי:
He sent messengers therefore to Bil’am, the son of Beor, to Petor, which is by the river of the land of the sons of his people, to summon him, saying: "Behold, a nation has come from Egypt and has covered the eye of the earth, and is situated across (my border). (Bamidbar 22:5)

The geographical reference is obscure: Where is Petor? Which river is this? From the context, the river in question seems well-known. The Ibn Ezra[6] takes this entire reference to be none other than Aram Naharaim, the Aramite “city between the rivers” (i.e., in the delta formed by the meeting of the Tigris and Euphrates: Mesopotamia). The Ibn Ezra utilizes another verse to make this identification:

דברים פרק כג: ד-ה
לֹא יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי בִּקְהַל ה’ גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי לֹא יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל ה’ עַד עוֹלָם: עַל דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלְלֶךָּ:
An Ammonite or Moavite shall not enter into the congregation of God; to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of God forever; Because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bil'am the son of Beor of Petor of Aram Naharaim, to curse you. (Dvarim 23:4,5)

Bil’am's place of origin is described as Aram Naharaim, which is also Avraham’s birthplace. When asking his servant to bring back a wife for his son from his hometown, Avraham sends his servant to this same place, Aram Naharaim:[7]

בראשית כד: ג-י
וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ בּה' אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִקַּח אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ: כִּי אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי תֵּלֵךְ וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי לְיִצְחָק:... וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד עֲשָׂרָה גְמַלִּים מִגְּמַלֵּי אֲדֹנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ וְכָל טוּב אֲדֹנָיו בְּיָדוֹ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם אֶל עִיר נָחוֹר:
And I will make you swear by the Almighty, the God of Heaven and Earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live; But you shall go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my son Yitzhak."...And the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, with the best of his master's goods in his hand; and he arose, and went to Aram Naharaim, to the city of Nahor. (Bereishit 24:3-10)

In fact, the river that appears in the description of Bil'am's home is actually an important element of Avraham’s identity, a defining characteristic: Avraham is described as having come from “the other side of the river”: he is "Avraham “haIvri” (Latinized, this term has become a familiar name for Avraham and his  Israelite descendents - "Hebrew").[8] This description has always been understood as more than a geographic quirk; it describes a very basic and essential element of Avraham's faith.

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת לך לך פרשה מב
"ויגד לאברם העברי", רבי יהודה ורבי נחמיה ורבנן, רבי יהודה אומר כל העולם כולו מעבר אחד והוא מעבר אחד, ורבנן אמרי שהוא מעבר הנהר
“…and told Avram ha’Ivri…” R. Yehudah said: [ha'Ivri signifies that] the whole world was on one side (’ever) while he was on the other side (’ever)… The Rabbis said: It means that he came from across the river. (Midrash Rabbah Bereishit 42:8)

The children of Lot and the children of Keturah knew of the spiritual power of the People of Israel; they knew that a conventional attack would be futile. They conjectured that the only way to defeat those who bore the blessing of Avraham would be to procure a new “Avraham”, to supplant Avraham, and thus break the connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. To this end, they return to the same breeding ground, Avraham’s hometown beyond the river, and seek out the legendary Bil’am, known for his spiritual prowess, in the hope that he might be capable of undoing the blessings and merit accrued by Avraham.

Unfortunately for them and fortunately for us – Bil’am was merely an “Avraham wannabe”[9]. He was a counterfeit. The careful reader will note numerous literary references to Avraham in Bil’am’s soliloquies, as well as narrative parallels between the Torah’s discussion of Avraham and the story of Bil’am. These are not accidental: they are part of the image Bil’am carefully cultivated as the “second coming”[10] of Avraham.

בראשית יב: ג
וַאֲבָרֲכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה:
And I will bless those who bless you, and he that curses you I will curse; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' (Bereishit 12:3)

במדבר כב: ו
וְעַתָּה לְכָה נָּא אָרָה לִּי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה בּוֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר:
Come now therefore, please curse this People for me; for they are too mighty for me; perhaps (thus) I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.' (Bamidbar 22:6)

בראשית כב: ג
וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת חֲמֹרוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים:
And Avraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Yitzhak his son; and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. (Bereishit 22:3)

במדבר כב: כא
וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת אֲתֹנוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ עִם שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב:
And Bil'am rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moav. (Bamidbar 22:21)

Bil’am, like Avraham, rises early in the morning and mounts his donkey, though while Avraham prayed for his enemies,[11] Bil’am hopes to curse his enemies. The plan hatched by Moav and Midian did not work, could never work: There was only one Avraham, though all of mankind are invited to follow his ways and teachings. Bil’am was a fake, despite his efforts in cultivating an Avraham-like persona and mystique; those who hired him were taken in by his reputation, and were sorely disappointed when there was nothing behind his self-made facade. The irony is that when he had the opportunity to curse the people he was not allowed to do so, and in the end he blessed them – just as Avraham would have wanted. This conclusion is equally fitting: God forces Bil’am to bless the Israelites, leaving him (and us) with some important lessons: If you wish to be like Avraham, be a person of substance, not of hollow reputation. See the People of Israel through Avraham's eyes, and bless them - as he would have.

Avraham’s power lay in his essence as a blessing to the Jews and to all of humanity, the source of spiritual enlightenment that cannot be twisted or perverted. The truth Avraham sought and found, the direct and continuous relationship with God he established, will always shine through the darkness spread by spiritual pretenders, false messiahs, bankrupt philosophies. This truth, and the spiritual stature that enable and empower those who cling to it, are the legacy inherited by Avraham’s son Yitzchak, and his grandson Ya’akov, and their descendents. It is a legacy available to any of the descendents of Shem, Cham and Yefet who seek it in earnest.

[1] See Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin:105a.
[2] See Midrash Rabbah - Bamidbar 20:14.
[3] According to the Talmud, the descendents of Avraham's other sons did come back during the reign of Alexander to stake their claim (Sanhedrin 91a): "On another occasion the Yishmaelites and the Ketureans came for a lawsuit against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon. They pleaded thus: ‘Canaan belongs jointly to all of us, for it is written, “Now these are the generations of Yishmael, Avraham's son”; and it is [further] written, “And these are the generations of Yitzhak, Avraham's son.” Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa said to the Sages: ‘Give me permission to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon. Should they defeat me then say, "You have defeated one of our ignorant men; whilst if I defeat them, say, "The Law of Moshe has defeated you."’ So they gave him permission, and he went and pleaded against them. ‘Whence do ye adduce your proof?’ asked he. ‘From the Torah,’ they replied. ‘Then I too,’ said he, ‘will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, 'And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzhak. But unto the sons of the concubines which Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts': if a father made a bequest to his children in his lifetime and sent them away from each other, has one any claim upon the other?
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף צא עמוד א
ושוב פעם אחת באו בני ישמעאל ובני קטורה לדון עם ישראל לפני אלכסנדרוס מוקדון. אמרו לו: ארץ כנען שלנו ושלכם, דכתיב (בראשית כ"ה) ואלה תלדת ישמעאל בן אברהם, וכתיב +בראשית כ"ה+ ואלה תולדת יצחק בן אברהם. אמר להן גביהא בן פסיסא לחכמים: תנו לי רשות ואלך ואדון עמהם לפני אלכסנדרוס מוקדון. אם ינצחוני - אמרו הדיוט שבנו נצחתם, ואם אני אנצח אותם, אמרו להם: תורת משה רבינו נצחתכם: נתנו לו רשות, הלך ודן עמהן. אמר להם: מהיכן אתם מביאין ראייה? - אמרו לו: מן התורה. - אמר להן: אף אני לא אביא ראייה אלא מן התורה, שנאמר (בראשית כ"ה) ויתן אברהם את כל אשר לו ליצחק ולבני הפילגשים אשר לאברהם נתן אברהם מתנת. אב שנתן אגטין לבניו בחייו, ושיגר זה מעל זה, כלום יש לזה על זה כלום?'
[4] See Rashi, Bereishit 25:6.
[5] Bamidbar 22:7. "And the elders of Moav and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came to Bil'am, and spoke to him the words of Balak."
במדבר כב:ז
 וַיֵּלְכוּ זִקְנֵי מוֹאָב וְזִקְנֵי מִדְיָן וּקְסָמִים בְּיָדָם וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו דִּבְרֵי בָלָק:
[6]  Ibn Ezra Bamidbar 22:5; this idea is also found in Rabbenu Bahya.
אבן עזרא, במדבר כב: ה
ארץ בני עמו והם ארמים, וכן מפתור ארם נהרים (דבר' כג: ה).
[7] There is some contention regarding Avraham’s birth place; see Ramban, Bereishit 12:1.
רמב"ן, בראשית יב
ועוד יקשה עליהם, כי אברהם בצוותו את אליעזר לקחת אשה לבנו אמר לו כי אל ארצי ואל מולדתי תלך (להלן כד ד), והוא הלך אל ארם נהרים אל עיר נחור (שם כד י), אם כן היא ארצו ומולדתו, ושם נאמר (בפסוק לח) אם לא אל בית אבי תלך ואל משפחתי, כי שם בית אביו ומשפחתו שהיא מולדתו, לא כאשר השתבש רבי אברהם לומר אל ארצי חרן, ומולדתי אור כשדים. והנה הוא האומר כאן כי באור כשדים נאמר לו לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך, והנה לו ארצות רבות:
[8] Bereishit 14:13.
בראשית יד: יג
וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי וְהוּא שֹׁכֵן בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא הָאֱמֹרִי אֲחִי אֶשְׁכֹּל וַאֲחִי עָנֵר וְהֵם בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית אַבְרָם:
[9]  The Zohar connects Bil’am’s power with the sons of Keturah: Zohar Bereishit 1: 133b
“And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak”, where the expression “all that he had” indicates the form of Sarah that was installed in that dwelling. According to another explanation this verse indicates that Avraham transmitted to Yitzchak the exalted doctrine of the true faith, so that he should be attached to his rightful grade. “But unto the sons of the concubines that Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts”. What sort of gifts were they? They comprised the sides of the low grades, that is to say, the names of the powers of the unclean spirit, so as to complete the whole list of grades. (Yitzchak was raised above those grades by the power of the true faith.) “The sons of the concubines” are the sons of Keturah, who had formerly been a concubine and was now once more a concubine.’ R. Hiya said that the term “concubines” here in the plural must be taken literally. And he sent them away from Yitzchak his son”, so that they should not be on a par with Yitzchak. “While he yet lived,” that is, while Avraham was yet alive and vigorous, so that they should not complain against him after his death, and so that Yitzchak might strengthen himself in the side of rigor so as to prevail over them all and make them all submit to him. “Eastward, to the east country”: for the reason that there are the haunts of the impure practitioners of magic and witchcraft. Observe this: It is written: “And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the East” (I Melachim 5, 10). Herein is an allusion to the descendants of the very children of Avraham's concubines, who, as already said, inhabit the mountains of the East, where they instruct the sons of men in the arts of magic and divination. It was this very land of the East from which came Lavan and Beor and his son Bil’am, who were all magicians.'
[10] The Mishna Avot 5:17, contrasts Bil’am and Avraham. Also see Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 105b.
משנה מסכת אבות ה: יז
כל מי שיש בידו שלשה דברים הללו מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו ושלשה דברים אחרים מתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע עין טובה ורוח נמוכה ונפש שפלה מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו עין רעה ורוח גבוה ונפש רחבה מתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע מה בין תלמידיו של אברהם אבינו לתלמידיו של בלעם הרשע תלמידיו של אברהם אבינו אוכלין בעולם הזה ונוחלין בעולם הבא שנאמר (משלי ח') להנחיל אוהבי יש ואוצרותיהם אמלא אבל תלמידיו של בלעם הרשע יורשין גיהנם ויורדין לבאר שחת שנאמר (תהלים נ"ה) ואתה אלהים תורידם לבאר שחת אנשי דמים ומרמה לא יחצו ימיהם ואני אבטח בך:
[11]When Avraham is told that Sodom will be destroyed, he engages God in dialogue and attempts to limit the decree. See Bereishit 18:23-32.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Parshat Chukat 5770 - The Ultimate Battle: Morality

Parshat Chukat 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

The Ultimate Battle: Morality

As Parshat Chukat begins, the Jews have moved away from Mount Sinai and begun their trek to the Promised Land. The path would not be a simple one, for while the desert was relatively uninhabited, and they were therefore generally[1] able to make progress unmolested, they had now left the desert. From this point on, they must cross population centers, coming into contact with different nations, in order to enter the Land of Israel.[2] As we shall see, not all of the nations whose paths they cross are treated equally.

When they meet up with Edom, Moshe begins with warm words: he notes their close genealogical relationship, going so far as to call the two nations “brothers”. Moshe "catches up" on what the Jewish People have been doing over the past few hundred years:

במדבר כ: יד-טז
וַיִּשְׁלַח מֹשֶׁה מַלְאָכִים מִקָּדֵשׁ אֶל מֶלֶךְ אֱדוֹם כֹּה אָמַר אָחִיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ אֵת כָּל הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתְנוּ: וַיֵּרְדוּ אֲבֹתֵינוּ מִצְרַיְמָה וַנֵּשֶׁב בְּמִצְרַיִם יָמִים רַבִּים וַיָּרֵעוּ לָנוּ מִצְרַיִם וְלַאֲבֹתֵינוּ: וַנִּצְעַק אֶל ה' וַיִּשְׁמַע קֹלֵנוּ וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָךְ וַיֹּצִאֵנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ בְקָדֵשׁ עִיר קְצֵה גְבוּלֶךָ:
And Moshe sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: 'Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the travail that has befallen us; how our fathers went down into Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and with our fathers. And we cried out to God, and He heard our voice and sent an angel, and brought us out of Egypt; and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city at the outer limits of your territory. (Bamidbar 20:14-16)

Beneath the surface of the pleasantries is a powerful message: Edom is another name for Esav, who was, of course, the brother of Yaakov/Yisrael. Esav detested the responsibilities of the firstborn, and happily sold his birthright for a pot of beans.[3] Being firstborn meant living up to the covenant that God had made with Avraham, a covenant that promised the Land of Israel at the cost of hundreds of years of slavery.[4] Moshe seems to be politely communicating to our “brother”: the Children of Yisrael made a "down payment" on the Land of Israel with the slavery we endured in Egypt, and we are now ready to come home and take what is ours.

Moshe then makes a request; he asks, as a long-lost brother, if Israel can pass through the land of Edom. His request is denied:

במדבר פרק כ: יז-כא
נַעְבְּרָה נָּא בְאַרְצֶךָ לֹא נַעֲבֹר בְּשָׂדֶה וּבְכֶרֶם וְלֹא נִשְׁתֶּה מֵי בְאֵר דֶּרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ נֵלֵךְ לֹא נִטֶּה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול עַד אֲשֶׁר נַעֲבֹר גְּבוּלֶךָ: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֱדוֹם לֹא תַעֲבֹר בִּי פֶּן בַּחֶרֶב אֵצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ: וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּמְסִלָּה נַעֲלֶה וְאִם מֵימֶיךָ נִשְׁתֶּה אֲנִי וּמִקְנַי וְנָתַתִּי מִכְרָם רַק אֵין דָּבָר בְּרַגְלַי אֶעֱבֹרָה: וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא תַעֲבֹר וַיֵּצֵא אֱדוֹם לִקְרָאתוֹ בְּעַם כָּבֵד וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה: וַיְמָאֵן אֱדוֹם נְתֹן אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבֹר בִּגְבֻלוֹ וַיֵּט יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָלָיו:
Please let us pass through your land; we will not pass through field or through vineyard, nor will we drink of the water of the wells; we will go along the king's highway, we will not turn aside to the right nor to the left, until we have crossed your border.' And Edom said to him: 'You shall not pass through me, lest I come out with the sword against you.' And the Children of Israel said to him: 'We will go up by the highway; and if we drink your water, I and my cattle, I will pay full price for it; let me only pass through on my feet; there is no harm in it.' And he said: 'You shall not pass through.' And Edom came out against him with a heavy force of people, and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; and Israel turned away from him. (Bamidbar 20: 17-21)

In this instance conflict is averted; Moshe leads the people on a more circuitous route. Earlier confrontations with descendents of Esav did not end so quietly: Amalek did not wait for the People of Israel to establish contact, to stake their claim or even to approach the Land of Israel. Immediately after the Jews left Egypt, Amalek attacked - but their onslaught was thwarted: Moshe sent Yehoshua to lead the charge and repel the Amalekite onslaught.

In fact, these two scenes of confrontation are closely related, even though their respective resolutions are so divergent: The hatred articulated by Edom was acted upon by Amalek. It is the “stolen” birthright and blessings that enraged the descendents of Esav. They felt they had a moral claim against Yaakov who had behaved with deceit, but they staked this claim only when the positive aspects of the birthright were about to come to fruition. When the children of Yaakov went down to Egypt, in fulfillment of the first part of the Covenant forged with Avraham, namely the slavery, Esav and his descendants were nowhere to found. Only now that the Israelites had endured unspeakable hardship, the hatred of these self-righteous adversaries bubbled up to the surface and they did what they could to prevent the Nation of Israel from reaping the rewards of their foresight, their patience, their unwavering faith in God's promise to their forefathers.

Yehoshua, from the tribe of Yosef, is particularly able to offer a moral counter- claim to Esav's charges. Esav claimed that Yaakov had not treated him in a brotherly fashion; Yaakov's treachery had cost him the birthright – which he did not even want. Yet Yosef's brothers acted in a manner so far beyond anything Yaakov had done to Esav: they plotted to kill him, and in the end “only” sold him as a slave. And how did Yosef repay this treachery? He took care of his brothers, supported them, supplied them with food, jobs and homes for over 50 years. Esav’s moral outrage would fall on deaf ears with Yehoshua; that is why Yehoshua was the right man to lead the people in the battle against the descendents of Esav: It is Yosef's moral superiority that defeats Amalek.

The next nation that crosses paths with the Israelites is the Canaanites. They, too, make a preemptive strike, even managing to take prisoners:

במדבר כא:א
וַיִּשְׁמַע הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ עֲרָד יֹשֵׁב הַנֶּגֶב כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים וַיִּלָּחֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּשְׁבְּ מִמֶּנּוּ שֶׁבִי:
And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel came by way of the Atarim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. (Bamidbar 21:1)

The Jews respond by turning to God for help, and they make vows in an attempt to cajole God to hear their prayers:

במדבר כא: ב -ג
וַיִּדַּר יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶדֶר לַיקֹוָק וַיֹּאמַר אִם נָתֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה בְּיָדִי וְהַחֲרַמְתִּי אֶת עָרֵיהֶם: וַיִּשְׁמַע ה’ בְּקוֹל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּתֵּן אֶת הַכְּנַעֲנִי וַיַּחֲרֵם אֶתְהֶם וְאֶת עָרֵיהֶם וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם חָרְמָה:
And Israel made a vow to God, and said: 'If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.'  And God heard the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah.  (Bamidbar 21:2-3)

Victorious, the Israelites continue their trek. They bypass Edom[5] and come to the territories of the Emorites and the Midianites[6]; again, they send a message asking to transverse land:

במדבר כא: כא-כב
וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְאָכִים אֶל סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי לֵאמֹר: אֶעְבְּרָה בְאַרְצֶךָ לֹא נִטֶּה בְּשָׂדֶה וּבְכֶרֶם לֹא נִשְׁתֶּה מֵי בְאֵר בְּדֶרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ נֵלֵךְ עַד אֲשֶׁר נַעֲבֹר גְּבֻלֶךָ:
And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying: 'Let me pass through your land; we will not turn aside into field, or into vineyard; we will not drink of the water of the wells; we will go by the king's highway, until we have crossed your border.'  (Bamidbar 21:21-22)

The request is denied and they are met by an army sent to fight:

במדבר כא: כג
וְלֹא נָתַן סִיחֹן אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבֹר בִּגְבֻלוֹ וַיֶּאֱסֹף סִיחֹן אֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא לִקְרַאת יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמִּדְבָּרָה וַיָּבֹא יָהְצָה וַיִּלָּחֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:
And Sihon did not allow Israel to pass through his border; Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness, and came to Yahaz; and he fought against Israel. (Bamidbar 21:23)

The Israelites are victorious. Not only do they capture the land of the Emorites, they also liberate land that was taken by the Emorites from the Moavites:

במדבר כא: כד-כה
וַיַּכֵּהוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְפִי חָרֶב וַיִּירַשׁ אֶת אַרְצוֹ מֵאַרְנֹן עַד יַבֹּק עַד בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן כִּי עַז גְּבוּל בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: וַיִּקַּח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל הֶעָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל עָרֵי הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן וּבְכָל בְּנֹתֶיהָ: כִּי חֶשְׁבּוֹן עִיר סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי הִוא וְהוּא נִלְחַם בְּמֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב הָרִאשׁוֹן וַיִּקַּח אֶת כָּל אַרְצוֹ מִיָּדוֹ עַד אַרְנֹן:
And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from the Arnon to the Yabbok, even unto the children of Ammon; for the border of the children of Ammon was strong. And Israel took all these cities; and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the towns thereof. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto the Arnon.  (Bamidbar 21:24-25)

While Edom and Moav are from the larger Avraham family, the Emorites are descendents of Cham[7], via Canaan[8]. Their ownership of the land was temporary, in fact part of the promise which God made to Avraham, when he forged the covenant was that this land would be given to his descendants, but only when the Emorites sin to the extent that they forfeit the Land.

בראשית טו: טז
וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה כִּי לֹא שָׁלֵם עֲוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי עַד הֵנָּה:
And the fourth generation will return here, for the iniquity of the Emorites will not be complete until that time. (Bereishit 15: 16)

Apparently not allowing the Jews to cross through their land, and instead waging war on them, was the final straw; this was the sin that tipped the scales against them, a sin significant enough to cause forfeit of the Land. As we see, not only did they lose their own land, they also lost lands they had conquered from others.[9]

Generations later, the people of Ammon had not forgotten. They let it be known that they still wanted "their" land back:

שופטים יא: יג
וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן אֶל מַלְאֲכֵי יִפְתָּח כִּי לָקַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת אַרְצִי בַּעֲלוֹתוֹ מִמִּצְרַיִם מֵאַרְנוֹן וְעַד הַיַּבֹּק וְעַד הַיַּרְדֵּן וְעַתָּה הָשִׁיבָה אֶתְהֶן בְּשָׁלוֹם:
And the king of the Ammonites answered to the messengers of Yiftach: 'Because Israel took away my land, when they came up from Egypt, from Arnon to Yabbok, and to the Jordan; now therefore give back those lands peacefully.' (Shoftim 11:13)

The people of Ammon claim that the Jews captured their land, and declare that they are willing to work out a deal which could be called “land for peace”.

The chosen warrior, Yiftach, seems to have a well-developed and well-informed historical consciousness, refutes the Ammonites' claim.

ספר שופטים יא: יד-כח
וַיּוֹסֶף עוֹד יִפְתָּח וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה אָמַר יִפְתָּח לֹא לָקַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת אֶרֶץ מוֹאָב וְאֶת אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: כִּי בַּעֲלוֹתָם מִמִּצְרָיִם וַיֵּלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּמִּדְבָּר עַד יַם סוּף וַיָּבֹא קָדֵשָׁה ויִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְאָכִים אֶל מֶלֶךְ אֱדוֹם לֵאמֹר אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא בְאַרְצֶךָ וְלֹא שָׁמַע מֶלֶךְ אֱדוֹם וְגַם אֶל מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב שָׁלַח וְלֹא אָבָה וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקָדֵשׁ: וַיֵּלֶךְ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיָּסָב אֶת אֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם וְאֶת אֶרֶץ מוֹאָב וַיָּבֹא מִמִּזְרַח שֶׁמֶשׁ לְאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב וַיַּחֲנוּן בְּעֵבֶר אַרְנוֹן וְלֹא בָאוּ בִּגְבוּל מוֹאָב כִּי אַרְנוֹן גְּבוּל מוֹאָב: וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְאָכִים אֶל סִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל נַעְבְּרָה נָּא בְאַרְצְךָ עַד מְקוֹמִי: וְלֹא הֶאֱמִין סִיחוֹן אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבֹר בִּגְבֻלוֹ וַיֶּאֱסֹף סִיחוֹן אֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּיָהְצָה וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל: וַיִּתֵּן ה' אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת סִיחוֹן וְאֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ בְּיַד יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּכּוּם וַיִּירַשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל אֶרֶץ הָאֱמֹרִי יוֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ הַהִיא: וַיִּירְשׁוּ אֵת כָּל גְּבוּל הָאֱמֹרִי מֵאַרְנוֹן וְעַד הַיַּבֹּק וּמִן הַמִּדְבָּר וְעַד הַיַּרְדֵּן: וְעַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הוֹרִישׁ אֶת הָאֱמֹרִי מִפְּנֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאַתָּה תִּירָשֶׁנּוּ: הֲלֹא אֵת אֲשֶׁר יוֹרִישְׁךָ כְּמוֹשׁ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אוֹתוֹ תִירָשׁ וְאֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר הוֹרִישׁ ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מִפָּנֵינוּ אוֹתוֹ נִירָשׁ: וְעַתָּה הֲטוֹב טוֹב אַתָּה מִבָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב הֲרוֹב רָב עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל אִם נִלְחֹם נִלְחַם בָּם: בְּשֶׁבֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן וּבִבְנוֹתֶיהָ וּבְעַרְעוֹר וּבִבְנוֹתֶיהָ וּבְכָל הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר עַל יְדֵי אַרְנוֹן שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא הִצַּלְתֶּם בָּעֵת הַהִיא: וְאָנֹכִי לֹא חָטָאתִי לָךְ וְאַתָּה עֹשֶׂה אִתִּי רָעָה לְהִלָּחֶם בִּי יִשְׁפֹּט ה' הַשֹּׁפֵט הַיּוֹם בֵּין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבֵין בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: וְלֹא שָׁמַע מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן אֶל דִּבְרֵי יִפְתָּח אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח אֵלָיו:
And Yiftach sent messengers again to the king of the Ammonites, and said to him, 'Thus said Yiftach: Israel did not take away the land of Moav, nor the land of the Ammonites; when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness to the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh; then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, Please let me pass through your land; but the king of Edom would not listen to it. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moav; but he would not consent; and Israel stayed in Kadesh. Then they went along through the wilderness, and around the land of Edom, and the land of Moav, and came by the east side of the land of Moav, and camped on the other side of Arnon, but did not come within the border of Moav; for Arnon was the border of Moav. And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Ammorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, Let us pass, we beseech you, through your land into my place. But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his border; but Sihon gathered all his people together, and camped in Yahaz, and fought against Israel. And the Almighty, God of Israel, delivered Sihon and all his people to the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Ammorites, the inhabitants of that country. And they possessed all the borders of the Ammorites, from Arnon to Yabbok, and from the wilderness to the Jordan. So now the Almighty, God of Israel, has dispossessed the Ammorites from before his people Israel, and should you possess it? Will not you possess that which Kemosh your god gives to you to possess? So whoever the Almighty our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess. And now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moav? Did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, while Israel lived in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that are along the borders of Arnon, for three hundred years? Why therefore did you not recover them during that time? Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you do me wrong to war against me; the Almighty God of Judgement shall be judge this day between the people of Israel and the Ammonites.' And the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Yiftach which he sent him. (Shoftim 11:14-28)

Yiftach had learned our Parsha well, and he cited it with ease and conviction.[10] It is no coincidence that he concludes his message with a very particular phrase: “The Almighty God of Judgement shall be judge this day between the people of Israel and the Ammonites.” This turn of phrase was first used by Sarah when she insisted that Avraham banish Hagar, her pregnant slave,[11] and exclude any child born to her from the inheritance and birthright. Likewise the children of Lot, Ammon and Moav, are not Avraham's rightful heirs, even though there was a time that Lot seemed to be Avraham's heir apparent, the only blood relative who would inherit Avraham's physical and spiritual empire. As with Lot, any rights they may have had to the Land are a result of their relationship to Avraham. Therefore, only behavior in line with Avraham’s mores will allow them residence; any other type of behavior causes their exile.

The land which Lot himself receives is given to him by Avraham, its' rightful owner – by virtue of God's covenant:

בראשית יג: ז-יא
וַיְהִי רִיב בֵּין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה אַבְרָם וּבֵין רֹעֵי מִקְנֵה לוֹט וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי אָז יֹשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ: וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל לוֹט אַל נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ וּבֵין רֹעַי וּבֵין רֹעֶיךָ כִּי אֲנָשִׁים אַחִים אֲנָחְנוּ: הֲלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ לְפָנֶיךָ הִפָּרֶד נָא מֵעָלָי אִם הַשְּׂמֹאל וְאֵימִנָה וְאִם הַיָּמִין וְאַשְׂמְאִילָה: וַיִּשָּׂא לוֹט אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן כִּי כֻלָּהּ מַשְׁקֶה לִפְנֵי שַׁחֵת ה’ אֶת סְדֹם וְאֶת עֲמֹרָה כְּגַן ה’ כְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בֹּאֲכָה צֹעַר: וַיִּבְחַר לוֹ לוֹט אֵת כָּל כִּכַּר הַיַּרְדֵּן וַיִּסַּע לוֹט מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּפָּרְדוּ אִישׁ מֵעַל אָחִיו:
And there was strife between the herdsmen of Avram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land. And Avram said to Lot: 'Please let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please, separate yourself from me; if you will take the left, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right, then I will go to the left.' And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before God destroyed Sodom and Amorrah, like the garden of God, like the land of Egypt, as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves from one another. (Bereishit 13:7-11)

Here too the word “brother” is used to describe the relationship, however the shepherds of Lot caused an untenable situation, and hence they needed to separate – Avraham allowed Lot to choose which land he wanted. Lot’s right to the Land is by proxy, because it was given to Avraham. Lot has two son’s Ammon and Moav, when they lost their land in battle, and that land is subsequently captured, Yiftach feels no moral compunction to return the land to Ammon or Moav, they had forfeited the land in war.

In fact Ammon and Moav, did not exactly behave like relatives should, when a relative comes to visit, you welcome him in and you provide food and drink, just like their great- uncle Avraham.

דברים כג: ד-ה
לֹא יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי בִּקְהַל ה’ גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי לֹא יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל ה’ עַד עוֹלָם: עַל דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלְלֶךָּ:
An Ammonite or a Moavite shall not enter into the Congregation of God; even to the tenth generation none of them shall enter into the Congregation of God forever; because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bil'am the son of Beor from Petor of Aram-Naharaim, to curse you. (Dvarim 23:4-5)

Instead of providing food they tried to curse us. The punishment for this behavior is they are no longer considered “brothers”[12] and can not marry into the Jewish People. When they behaved as they did, in a manner that went against everything their great-uncle Avraham stood for, they severed their connection with the land which belonged to Avraham, and from the people who were Avraham's legitimate heirs.

Conversely, Edom is still considered our brother:[13]

דברים כג: ח
לֹא תְתַעֵב אֲדֹמִי כִּי אָחִיךָ הוּא לֹא תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי כִּי גֵר הָיִיתָ בְאַרְצוֹ:
You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Dvarim 23:8)

With his keen sense of history, Yiftach - who hails from the tribe of Yosef - prepares for battle. He, too, like the Jewish People generations before, makes a vow:

שופטים יא: כט-לא
וַתְּהִי עַל יִפְתָּח רוּחַ ה' וַיַּעֲבֹר אֶת הַגִּלְעָד וְאֶת מְנַשֶּׁה וַיַּעֲבֹר אֶת מִצְפֵּה גִלְעָד וּמִמִּצְפֵּה גִלְעָד עָבַר בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן: וַיִּדַּר יִפְתָּח נֶדֶר לַה' וַיֹּאמַר אִם נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן בְּיָדִי: וְהָיָה הַיּוֹצֵא אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִדַּלְתֵי בֵיתִי לִקְרָאתִי בְּשׁוּבִי בְשָׁלוֹם מִבְּנֵי עַמּוֹן וְהָיָה לַה' וְהַעֲלִיתִהוּ עוֹלָה:
Then the spirit of God came upon Yiftach, and he passed over Gilead, and Menasheh, and passed over Mizpeh Gilead, and from Mizpeh Gilead he passed over to the Ammonites. And Yiftach made a vow to God, and said, 'If you shall deliver the Ammonites completely into my hands, then it shall be, that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the Ammonites, shall be God’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (Shoftim 11: 29-31)

Yiftach promises that the first to walk out his door to greet him will be dedicated to God.

שופטים יא: לד
וַיָּבֹא יִפְתָּח הַמִּצְפָּה אֶל בֵּיתוֹ וְהִנֵּה בִתּוֹ יֹצֵאת לִקְרָאתוֹ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלוֹת וְרַק הִיא יְחִידָה אֵין לוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ בֵּן אוֹ בַת:
And Yiftach came to Mizpah, to his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances; and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. (Shoftim 11: 34)

As luck would have it, his only child walked out the door, and now Yiftach would seem to have a dilemma – does he keep his word or break it? To this point, Yiftach has lived by a finely-tuned moral compass, and this episosde is no exception. He does not consider breaking his vow, and his daughter follows in his footsteps:

שופטים יא: לה-לו
וַיְהִי כִרְאוֹתוֹ אוֹתָהּ וַיִקְרַע אֶת בְּגָדָיו וַיֹּאמֶר אֲהָהּ בִּתִּי הַכְרֵעַ הִכְרַעְתִּנִי וְאַתְּ הָיִית בְּעֹכְרָי וְאָנֹכִי פָּצִיתִי פִי אֶל ה' וְלֹא אוּכַל לָשׁוּב:וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אָבִי פָּצִיתָה אֶת פִּיךָ אֶל ה' עֲשֵׂה לִי כַּאֲשֶׁר יָצָא מִפִּיךָ אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ ה' נְקָמוֹת מֵאֹיְבֶיךָ מִבְּנֵי עַמּוֹן:
And it came to pass, when he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said: 'Alas, my daughter! you have brought me down, and you have become my troubler; for I have opened my mouth to God, and I cannot go back.' And she said to him: 'My father, you have opened your mouth to God; do to me what you have spoken; for God has taken vengeance for you on your enemies, the children of Ammon.' (Shoftim 11: 35-36)

There is a tradition that Yiftach actually saw it through to the bitter end, went ahead and sacrificed his daughter - an act that certainly would be considered a moral outrage. However, there are other choices: Jewish tradition allows a person to question the vow; in such a case, if an opening (a petach[14]) is found, the vow may be canceled. Yiftach did not seek a petach;[15] he made a vow – albeit one that is difficult to understand:[16] He only had one child. How surprised should he have been when she, and no other, is the first to come out of the door of his home (also called petach) to welcome him?

Is it possible that this is precisely what Yiftach was thinking –to a greater or lesser degree? The text never states that his daughter was turned into a sacrifice; in fact, this would be an absurdity. The law is very specific as to what types of animals may be brought as offerings. In fact, at most Yiftach would have been required to offer the monetary value of a person to the Temple. We may assume, based on Yiftach’s detailed knowledge[17] of the Book of Bamidbar, that he was conversant with the other books of the Torah as well.[18] It would illogical to think that Yiftach and all of the kohanim were totally ignorant[19] of the laws of sacrifice. What, then, was Yiftach thinking, and how did he fulfill the vow that he made- apparently in full awareness of what would or could happen?

The text uses very specific language in describing the results of Yiftach's vow: not murder, not slaughter, rather olah, an 'elevation'[20] or 'uplifting' sacrifice:

שופטים יא: לז-מ
וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל אָבִיהָ יֵעָשֶׂה לִּי הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה הַרְפֵּה מִמֶּנִּי שְׁנַיִם חֳדָשִׁים וְאֵלְכָה וְיָרַדְתִּי עַל הֶהָרִים וְאֶבְכֶּה עַל בְּתוּלַי אָנֹכִי וְרֵעֹיתָי \{וְרֵעוֹתָי\}: וַיֹּאמֶר לֵכִי וַיִּשְׁלַח אוֹתָהּ שְׁנֵי חֳדָשִׁים וַתֵּלֶךְ הִיא וְרֵעוֹתֶיהָ וַתֵּבְךְּ עַל בְּתוּלֶיהָ עַל הֶהָרִים: וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנַיִם חֳדָשִׁים וַתָּשָׁב אֶל אָבִיהָ וַיַּעַשׂ לָהּ אֶת נִדְרוֹ אֲשֶׁר נָדָר וְהִיא לֹא יָדְעָה אִישׁ וַתְּהִי חֹק בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל: מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה תֵּלַכְנָה בְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְתַנּוֹת לְבַת יִפְתָּח הַגִּלְעָדִי אַרְבַּעַת יָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה:
And she said to her father: 'Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may depart and go down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.' And he said: 'Go.' And he sent her away for two months; and she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed; and she had not known a man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Yiftach the Gileadite four days a year. (Shoftim 11: 37-40)

The daughter's lament seems clear: she mourned for the life she would not live, for the love a man she would never meet, for the family she would not have. The verses that deal with Yiftach's fulfillment of his vow are far more difficult to understand: What exactly was the vow? Was it to slaughter her, or was it to sanctify her? A number of commentaries[21] understand that Yiftach’s daughter led a life of celibacy and isolation, in some sort of Jewish version of a nunnery,  and these same commentaries severely chastise Yiftach for bringing upon her this completely un-Jewish fate.

Let us consider Yiftach's motivation: If we assume that Yiftach was neither mad nor ignorant, we may say that he had a specific moral motivation for making the vow that he did. The key to his motivation must surely lie in the identity of his enemy, Ammon. We have already noted that Ammon and Moav where the children of Lot; in fact, they were the products of incest:

בראשית יט : לה-לח
וַתַּשְׁקֶיןָ גַּם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא אֶת אֲבִיהֶן יָיִן וַתָּקָם הַצְּעִירָה וַתִּשְׁכַּב עִמּוֹ וְלֹא יָדַע בְּשִׁכְבָהּ וּבְקֻמָהּ: וַתַּהֲרֶיןָ שְׁתֵּי בְנוֹת לוֹט מֵאֲבִיהֶן: וַתֵּלֶד הַבְּכִירָה בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ מוֹאָב הוּא אֲבִי מוֹאָב עַד הַיּוֹם: וְהַצְּעִירָה גַם הִוא יָלְדָה בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ בֶּן עַמִּי הוּא אֲבִי בְנֵי עַמּוֹן עַד הַיּוֹם:
And they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn daughter bore a son, and called his name Moav; he is the father of the Moavites to this day. And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-Ammi; the same is the father of the Ammonites to this day.

Perhaps realizing that at the enemy's very core, the Ammonites' proverbial Achilles heel was sexuality, Yiftach decided to consecrate his own daughter and keep her far away from sexuality and sin. Hence she mourned her virginity, which would be perpetual; other young women would make pilgrimages to cry with Yiftach’s daughter.

At the door of his tent Lot showed bravery; he saved the angels from the marauding mob, who wanted to "know them" in the biblical sense.

בראשית יט: ד-ז
טֶרֶם יִשְׁכָּבוּ וְאַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר אַנְשֵׁי סְדֹם נָסַבּוּ עַל הַבַּיִת מִנַּעַר וְעַד זָקֵן כָּל הָעָם מִקָּצֶה: וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל לוֹט וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אַיֵּה הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ הַלָּיְלָה הוֹצִיאֵם אֵלֵינוּ וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם: וַיֵּצֵא אֲלֵהֶם לוֹט הַפֶּתְחָה וְהַדֶּלֶת סָגַר אַחֲרָיו: וַיֹּאמַר אַל נָא אַחַי תָּרֵעוּ:
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both old and young, all the people from every quarter; And they called to Lot, and said to him, 'Where are the men who came in to you this night? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.' And Lot went out the door to them, and closed the door after him, and said: 'I beg you, my brothers, do not do this wicked deed. (Bereishit 19:4-7)

Therefore, at the door of his own tent, Yiftach felt he needed to equal and offset the possible moral superiority of his enemy. In actuality, Lot was not a formidable foe: he left the holiness of Avraham’s tent, and when pressured, in an act which exemplifies his own moral failure, he offered his daughters as the consolation prize to the lecherous masses:

בראשית יט: ח
הִנֵּה נָא לִי שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ אִישׁ אוֹצִיאָה נָּא אֶתְהֶן אֲלֵיכֶם וַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶן כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל אַל תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר כִּי עַל כֵּן בָּאוּ בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי:
Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me, I beg you, bring them out to you, and do to them as is good in your eyes; only to these men do nothing; seeing that they have come under the shadow of my roof. (Bereishit 19:8)

Yiftach[22] was correct: we must be far more moral than our enemies; unfortunately for his daughter, he overreacted to the moral challenge posed by Lot's descendents.

Today, as we face opponents of many different kinds, as we engage in both physical and moral battles, we must retain our moral superiority[23] on an individual and national level. If we are able to do so, God will be with us, and victory over our physical and spiritual foes is assured.

[1] An exception was the attack waged by Amalek which transpired soon after the Israelites left Egypt. See Shmot 17.
[2] One premature, aborted attempt to enter Israel was the ill-advised attempt recorded in Bamidbar 14:44-45; in that instance they met resistance from Amalek and Canaan.
[3] See Bereishit 25:34.
בראשית פרק כה:לד
וְיַעֲקֹב נָתַן לְעֵשָׂו לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת הַבְּכֹרָה:
[4] See Bereishit 15:12-21.
בראשית טו:יב-יח
וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לָבוֹא וְתַרְדֵּמָה נָפְלָה עַל אַבְרָם וְהִנֵּה אֵימָה חֲשֵׁכָה גְדֹלָה נֹפֶלֶת עָלָיו:  וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה: בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא כָּרַת ה’ אֶת אַבְרָם בְּרִית לֵאמֹר לְזַרְעֲךָ נָתַתִּי אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת מִנְּהַר מִצְרַיִם עַד הַנָּהָר הַגָּדֹל נְהַר פְּרָת:

[5] See Bamidbar 21:4
במדבר כא:ד
 וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהֹר הָהָר דֶּרֶךְ יַם סוּף לִסְבֹב אֶת אֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם וַתִּקְצַר נֶפֶשׁ הָעָם בַּדָּרֶךְ:
[6] See Bamidbar 21:13
במדבר כא :יג
מִשָּׁם נָסָעוּ וַיַּחֲנוּ מֵעֵבֶר אַרְנוֹן אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר הַיֹּצֵא מִגְּבֻל הָאֱמֹרִי כִּי אַרְנוֹן גְּבוּל מוֹאָב בֵּין מוֹאָב וּבֵין הָאֱמֹרִי:
[7] Bereishit 10:6.
בראשית י:ו
 וּבְנֵי חָם כּוּשׁ וּמִצְרַיִם וּפוּט וּכְנָעַן:
[8] Bereishit 10:16.
בראשית י: טו-יח
וּכְנַעַן יָלַד אֶת צִידֹן בְּכֹרוֹ וְאֶת חֵת: וְאֶת הַיְבוּסִי וְאֶת הָאֱמֹרִי וְאֵת הַגִּרְגָּשִׁי: וְאֶת הַחִוִּי וְאֶת הַעַרְקִי וְאֶת הַסִּינִי: וְאֶת הָאַרְוָדִי וְאֶת הַצְּמָרִי וְאֶת הַחֲמָתִי וְאַחַר נָפֹצוּ מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי:
[9] See Talmud Bavli Gittin 38a.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף לח עמוד א
אמר רב פפא: עמון ומואב טהרו בסיחון.
[10] Perhaps this is the reason that the Haftorah reading for Parshat Chukat is this section of the Book of Shoftim.
[11] See Bereishit 16:5.  "And Sarai said to Avram: 'My wrong be upon thee: I gave my handmaid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: God will judge between me and you.'
בראשית טז:ה
וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי אֶל אַבְרָם חֲמָסִי עָלֶיךָ אָנֹכִי נָתַתִּי שִׁפְחָתִי בְּחֵיקֶךָ וַתֵּרֶא כִּי הָרָתָה וָאֵקַל בְּעֵינֶיהָ יִשְׁפֹּט ה’ בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ:
[12] See Bamidbar 23:7.
דברים כג: ז
לֹא תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם וְטֹבָתָם כָּל יָמֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם: ס
[13] Edom also did not provide food and drink, perhaps they did have a reason for their displeasure, due to the birthright and blessings, while Amon and Moav should have had no reason to hate the Jews.
[14] See Mishna Nedarim 3:4.
משנה מסכת נדרים פרק ג
בית שמאי אומרים לא יפתח לו בנדר ובית הלל אומרים אף יפתח לו
[15] See Midrash Tanchuma Bchukotai chapter 5.
מדרש תנחומא בחוקותי פרק ה
שהעלים הקב"ה מהם את ההלכה שלא ימצאו פתחו להתיר לו את נדרו עלה ושחטה ורוח הקדש צווחת נפשות הייתי רוצה שתקריב לפני אשר לא צויתי ולא דברתי ולא עלתה על לבי (ירמיה ז) אשר לא צויתי לאברהם שישחוט את בנו אלא אמרתי לו אל תשלח ידך להודיע לכל האומות חיבתו של אברהם שלא חשך את יחידו ממני לעשות רצון בוראו ולא דברתי ליפתח להקריב את בתו רבי יוחנן ורשב"ל רבי יוחנן אמר דמים היה חייב כענין שכתוב בערכין ורשב"ל אמר ולא כלום שהתנה על דבר שאי אפשר להקריב ולא היה עליו כלום ולא עלתה על לבי זה מישע מלך מואב שכתוב בו בשעה שנפל ביד מלך ישראל ויקח את בנו הבכור אשר ימלוך תחתיו ויעלהו עולה (מלכים ב ג) מי גרם למישע שיקריב את בנו על שלא היה בן תורה שאלו קרא בתורה לא אבד את בנו שכתוב בתורה איש כי יפליא נדר והיה ערכך הזכר ואם נקבה היא וגו' הוי ולוקח נפשות חכם:

[16] The TalmudBavli,  Ta’anit 4a, states that he was in fact mistaken to make such a vow, and the implication is that he brought her as a sacrificial offering.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף ד/א
אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן שלשה שאלו שלא כהוגן לשנים השיבוהו כהוגן לאחד השיבוהו שלא כהוגן ואלו הן אליעזר עבד אברהם ושאול בן קיש ויפתח הגלעדי אליעזר עבד אברהם דכתיב והיה הנערה אשר אמר אליה הטי נא כדך וגו' יכול אפילו חיגרת אפילו סומא השיבו כהוגן ונזדמנה לו רבקה שאול בן קיש דכתיב והיה האיש אשר יכנו יעשרנו המלך עשר גדול ואת בתו יתן לו יכול אפילו עבד אפילו ממזר השיבו כהוגן ונזדמן לו דוד יפתח הגלעדי דכתיב והיה היוצא אשר יצא מדלתי ביתי וגו' יכול אפילו דבר טמא השיבו שלא כהוגן נזדמנה לו בתו
[17] The Midrash Tanchuma Bchukotai chapter 5, states explicitly that Yiftach was not a scholar (ben Torah).
מדרש תנחומא בחוקותי פרק ה
(ה) דבר אחר איש כי יפליא נדר בערכך נפשות זש"ה פרי צדיק עץ חיים ולוקח נפשות חכם (משלי יא) אם יהיה אדם צדיק ואע"פ שהוא צדיק ואינו עוסק בתורה אין בידו כלום אלא פרי צדיק עץ חיים זו תורה שמתוך שהוא בן תורה הוא למד האיך לוקח נפשות שנאמר ולוקח נפשות חכם שאם ידור לערוך נפשות הוא למד מן התורה היאך עושה ואם אין בידו תורה אין בידו כלום כן את מוצא ביפתח הגלעדי מפני שלא היה בן תורה אבד את בתו אימתי בשעה שנלחם עם בני עמון ונדר באותה שעה שנא' (שופטים יא) וידר יפתח נדר וגו' והיה היוצא וגו' והיה לה' והעליתיהו עולה באותה שעה היה עליו כעס מן הקב"ה אמר אילו יצא מביתו כלב או חזיר או גמל היה מקריב אותו לפני לכך זימן לו בתו כ"כ למה כדי שילמדו כל הנודרים הלכות נדרים וקונמות שלא לנהוג טעות בנדרים
[18] See Bereishit Rabbah 60:3
 Yiftach asked in an unfitting manner, and God answered him in an unfitting manner. He asked in an unfitting manner, as it says, And Yiftach vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said: Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth... it shall be the Lord's and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering (Judg. XI, 30 f.). Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him: ‘Then had a camel or a donkey or a dog come forth, thou wouldst have offered it up for a burnt-offering I ' What did the Lord do? He answered him unfittingly and prepared his daughter for him, as it says, And Yiftach came... and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him (ib. 34).
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes (ib. 35). R. Johanan and Resh Lakish disagree. R. Johanan maintained: He was liable for her monetary consecration; Resh Lakish said: He was not even liable for her monetary consecration. For we learned: If one declared of an unclean animal or an animal with a blemish: ‘Behold, let these be burnt-offerings,’ his declaration is completely null. If he declared: ‘Let these be for a burnt offering,’ they must be sold, and he brings a burnt-offering for their money.2 Yet was not Phinehas there to absolve him of his vow? Phinehas, however, said: He needs me, and I am to go to him! Moreover, I am a High Priest and the son of a High Priest; shall I then go to an ignoramus? While Yiftach said: Am I, the chief of Israel's leaders, to go to Phinehas! Between the two of them the maiden perished. Thus people say: ' Between the midwife and the woman in travail the young woman's child is lost!’ Both were punished for her blood. Yiftach died through his limbs dropping off: wherever he went a limb would drop off from him, and it was buried there on the spot. Hence it is written, Then died Yiftach the Gileadite, and was buried in the cities of Gilead (ib. XII, 7) It does not say, ‘In a city of Gilead,’ but, ’In the cities of Gilead’ Phinehas was deprived of the divine afflatus. Hence it is written, And Phinehas the son of Eleazar had been ruler over them (I Chron. IX, 20): it is not written, He was ruler over them, but ‘Had been ruler in time past, [when] the Lord was with him (ib.).
בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת חיי שרה פרשה ס
יפתח (שופטים יא) והיה היוצא אשר יצא וגו' והעליתיהו עולה לה', הא אילו יצא חמור או כלב אחד או חתול אחת, היה מעלהו עולה וזימן לו הקב"ה שלא כהוגן, הה"ד (שם /שופטים י"א/) ויבא יפתח וגו' והנה בתו יוצאת לקראתו, ר"י ור"ל, ר' יוחנן אמר הקדש דמים היה חייב ור"ל אמר אפילו הקדש דמים לא היה חייב, דתנן אמר על בהמה טמאה ועל בעלת מום הרי אלו עולה לא אמר כלום, אמר הרי אלו לעולה ימכרו ויביא בדמיהם עולה, ולא היה שם פנחס שיתיר לו את נדרו, אלא פנחס אמר הוא צריך לי ואני אלך אצלו, ויפתח אמר אני ראש קציני ישראל ואני הולך לי אצל פנחס, בין דין לדין אבדה הנערה ההיא, הדא דברייתא אמרה בין חייתא למחבלתא אזל ברא דעלובתא, ושניהם נענשו בדמיה של נערה, יפתח מת בנשילת אברים בכל מקום שהיה הולך בו היה אבר נישול הימנו והיו קוברין אותו שם, הה"ד (שם /שופטים/ יב) וימת יפתח ויקבר בערי גלעד בעיר גלעד לא נאמר אלא בערי גלעד, פנחס נטלה ממנו רוח הקדש, הה"ד (ד"ה =דברי הימים= א ט) פנחס בן אלעזר נגיד היה עליהם, הוא נגיד עליהם אין כתיב כאן, אלא נגיד היה, לפנים ה' עמו.
[19] Many sources speak of Yiftach in a derogatory fashion see Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 25b.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף כה עמוד ב
ואומר +תהלים צט+ משה ואהרן בכהניו ושמואל בקראי שמו. שקל הכתוב שלשה קלי עולם כשלשה חמורי עולם, לומר לך: ירובעל בדורו - כמשה בדורו, בדן בדורו - כאהרן בדורו, יפתח בדורו - כשמואל בדורו. ללמדך שאפילו קל שבקלין ונתמנה פרנס על הצבור - הרי הוא כאביר שבאבירים, ואומר +דברים יז+ ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים ואל השפט אשר יהיה בימים ההם. וכי תעלה על דעתך שאדם הולך אצל הדיין שלא היה בימיו? הא אין לך לילך אלא אצל שופט שבימיו, ואומר +קהלת ז+ אל תאמר מה היה שהימים הראשונים היו טובים מאלה.

[20] See my article on Akeidat Yitzchak:, which will be  a chapter in my forthcoming book, “Echoes of Eden”(Jerusalem: OU/Geffen Publishers).
[21] See Radak and Ralbag, Shoftim 11:31.
רד"ק, שופטים יא: לא
 והעליתיהו עולה - דעת רז"ל בזה ידוע וא"א ז"ל פירש והעליתיהו הוי"ו במקום או ופירש והיה לה' הקדש אם אינו ראוי לעולה או העליתיהו עולה אם ראוי לעולה וכמו זה הוי"ו מכה אביו ואמו או אמו ויפה פי' וכן נראה מהפסוק כי לא המיתה שאמר ואבכה על נפשי לאות כי לא המיתה אך לא ידעה איש כמו שאמר והיא לא ידעה איש ומה שאמר גם כן ויעש לה את נדרו אשר נדר ולא אמר ויעלה עולה לאות כי פרושה היתה וזהו את נדרו אשר נדר והיה להשם כך נראה לפי פשטי הפסוקים ודברי רז"ל אם קבלה היא בידם עלינו לקבלה:
רלב"ג על שופטים פרק יא פסוק לא
(לא) והנה היוצא מדלתי ביתו יהיה בהכרח בעל החיים ואם היה ממין האדם יהיה לה' ויהיה מיוחד לעבודת הש"י לבד ואם יהיה זכר לא יצטרך שיהיה פרוש מן האשה כי כבר יהיה מיוחד לעבודת הש"י בזולת זה האופן כמו שנמצא בכהנים ובלוים ומצאנו ג"כ זה הלשון בשמואל עם לקחו אשה והולידו בנים ממנה ואמנם אם היתה אשה יחוייב שתהיה פרושה מאיש שאם היה לה בעל לא תהיה מיוחדת לעבודת הש"י אבל תעבוד על זה בעלה כמשפט הנשים הנשואות ולזה קרע יפתח את בגדיו בראותו בתו יוצאה לקראתו כי זה הנדר יחייב שלא תהיה לאיש ידמה שעשה לה יפתח בית מחוץ לא ראתה אדם בו ולא אשה וישבה שם אך המתין לה שנים חדשים תלך בהם עם רעותיה לבכות על בתוליה על ההרים ובזה הזמן הסגירה בבית הוא ולא היתה רואה אפילו אשה שם זולתי ארבעה ימים בשנה שהיה חק לישראל שתלכנה בנות ישראל לתנות לבת יפתח על בתוליה והיא היתה פרושה מאיש כל ימיה...

[22] Yiftach is introduced at the outset as the son of a prostitute; perhaps this contributed to his sensitivity. See Shoftim 11:1. "Now Yiftach the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Yiftach."
שופטים יא: א
וְיִפְתָּח הַגִּלְעָדִי הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל וְהוּא בֶּן אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה וַיּוֹלֶד גִּלְעָד אֶת יִפְתָּח:
[23] During the recent Second Lebanon War, I received a phone call from a group of soldiers who were in southern Lebanon. They had run out of supplies, and had entered a store that had been abandoned by the proprietors. Based on the signs and pictures hanging all around them, the soldiers had no doubt that the shopkeeper, as well as the entire town, were supporters of the ruthless terrorists with whom we were at war. The question they posed was whether they should leave money behind for the goods taken from the store. It is, quite frankly, impossible to imagine that soldiers in any other army in the world would be occupied with similar questions of ethics and morality in the middle of a war. It is the moral strength of these soldiers, and thousands more like them, that protect us.