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Repay Bad with Good

Jephthah said to them, “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?” — Judges 11:7

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

In this week’s Haftorah reading, we read the story about a little known Bible character from the book of Judges, Jephthah, and how he saved the children of Israel from their enemies, in this case the Ammonites. In last week’s Haftorah reading, when Samuel gave a brief history of the Israelites, Jephthah was included in the list of six men who helped save Israel.

However, the sages comment that the list was given in order of greatness and that the last names on the list weren’t all that wonderful. Jephthah belongs to that category. In addition, the sages comment in the Talmud: “Jephthah in his generation is like Samuel in his,” meaning that Jephthah was nowhere as great as Samuel, but relative to his generation, he was the best that they could produce.

So what is Jephthah’s flaw? How might he have been greater? What could he have done differently?

In looking at Jephthah’s story in Judges 11, we learn that Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, but was otherwise a prestigious man. When his father passed away, Jephthah’s brothers saw him as an illegitimate son (even though legally, he was just as much a son to the father as the others) and sent him away. They disparaged and despised Jephthah, and finally, Jephthah found a home in a place filled with others who were shunned by society.

Then, one day the Israelites decided that they needed Jephthah because he was the best warrior available. Jephthah essentially said to the elders, “Where were you when my brothers treated me so badly?” “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?” After some begging, Jephthah agreed to help on the condition that they make him a leader if he was successful.

Herein lies Jephthah’s flaw.

Does this story sound familiar? It should. Joseph was also mistreated and sent away by his brothers, who decades later needed his help when they were starving and he was a ruler in Egypt. However, Joseph didn’t hold a grudge. He repaid evil with kindness, sustaining his brothers in every way possible.

Good people repay kindness with kindness, but outstanding people will repay even harshness with kindness. This is where Jephthah was lacking.

God creates plenty of opportunities for us to succeed where Jephthah failed. We might have a difficult family member or a challenging co-worker. They may be rude and mean-spirited. But don’t just wish those people away – they provide us with an amazing opportunity for greatness! Be most generous and kind with those kinds of people. Repay their bad with your good; fight darkness with more light. You will glorify God and be a shining example of His love.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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