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No Going Back

The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.” — Judges 11:13

The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement” or “law,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the journey of the Israelites toward the Holy Land. At that time, Israel requested to pass peacefully through the surrounding territories, but the nations living there refused and went to war against them instead. Israel fought valiantly and triumphed over their enemies. In the process, they acquired the territories of their enemies, which they settled.

Now, in the Haftorah, several hundred years later, the Ammonites have come to the Israelites and demanded that they give over the land saying, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land . . . Now give it back peaceably.” Jephthah, Israel’s representative, basically said, “No way! The Amorites attacked us, and with God’s help, we won! And besides, why are you coming with this complaint now, so many years later?”

To anyone following today’s politics, this dialect is very familiar. Israel being unjustly attacked, Israel victorious, and the losers wanting to reverse those events years later, is a storyline unfolding right now! But politics aside, there is another lesson in this story – one that relates to us all.

A story is told about a boy who didn’t behave very well. In fact, this boy was a bully in every way – constantly hurting others with words and with blows. One day, his mother got advice and put it into action. That day she told her son that every time he hurt another person, she would put a nail in the wall of his bedroom. At first the boy was pleased – what a lenient punishment! But after time, as the wall grew covered with ugly nails, he started to feel bad about himself and his deeds.

What could he do to get those nails out, he asked his mother. She explained that for every good thing he did, such as apologies or kind deeds, she would take one nail out of his wall. The boy began and was encouraged as the nails slowly disappeared. Finally the last nail came out.

But the boy was still sad. After all that hard work, there were still holes in the wall. The nails could be removed, but there was nothing to hide the holes that remained.

The lesson of this story, and the Haftorah reading, is that while second chances are nice, they are not always possible. Sometimes we make poor choices that are irreversible. We can repent and we can be forgiven, but consequences remain. So count to ten when you get angry or find other ways to vent your frustrations before lashing out. There are things in life that we can change, but there are consequences that we can’t.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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