Sefer Shoftim-Chapter 11: The rule of Yiftach

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Chapter 11: The rule of Yiftach

1. Who is Yiftach?

  • Yiftach the Giladi was a warrior. He was the son of a harlot [i.e. concubine[1]], and the son of Gilad.
  • Son of a harlot: The wife of Gilad bore him many sons, who banished Yiftach from amongst them saying that he will not receive an inheritance from their father’s household, as he is the son of another woman.
  • Yiftach flees: Yiftach fled from his brothers and settled in a good land, [or a land called Tov[2]]. Many thugs gathered around Yiftach and went with him.

2. Yiftach is asked to lead the Jewish people in battle:

  • The request: After some time, the people of Amon waged war against the Jewish people. When this occurred, the elders of Gilad went to bring Yiftach from his good land [to help them wage war against Amon]. They said to Yiftach: Come be for us a general to lead us in war against Amon.
  • The refusal: Yiftach replied to the elders of Gilad: Did you not hate me and banish me from my father’s house and now you come to me when you are in trouble?
  • The offer: The elders of Gilad replied that indeed [they are at fault and therefore they are offering him that] if you now come and wage war with us against Amon then we will appoint you the head of all those who dwell in Gilad.
  • Yiftach accepts the offer: Yiftach replied to the elders of Gilad that if he is placed to wage war against Amon and G-d hands them over to him, then I will become your leader. The leaders of Gilad replied to Yiftach that G-d will be a judge between them if they do not do as they promised.
  • Yiftach is appointed leader and converses with G-d: Yiftach went with the elders of Gilad, and the people appointed him as their leader and general. Yiftach conversed his words [i.e. the stipulation made with Gilad[3]] with G-d in Mitzpah.

3. Yiftach sends messengers to the king of Amon to convince him to avoid war:

  • Yiftach confronts Amon for trying to wage war: Yiftach sent messengers to the king of Amon asking as to why he is readying to wage war against their land. “What claim do you have towards it?”
  • The reply of Amon-You stole our land: The king of Amon replied to the messengers of Yiftach that the Jewish people took their land when they ascended from Egypt. They took the land from Arnon until the Yabok and Jordon. Now, [either] return it in peace [or face war].
  • The response of Yiftach-We did not take your land: Yiftach again sent messengers to the king of Amon saying that the Jewish people did not take the land of Moav or the land of Amon.
  • A history lesson-Yiftach relays the story of the ascent of the Jewish people from Egypt: Yiftach relayed to Amon the entire story that happened when they left Egypt: When the Jewish people left Egypt, they traveled through the desert until they reached the reed sea, and then arrived in Kadesh. The Jewish people then sent messengers to the kings of Edom and Moav, requesting from them to allow the Jewish people to pass through their lands [in order to reach Israel], but they refused, and thus the Jewish people remained in Kadesh. We again traveled through the desert, circling the land of Edom and Moav. We arrived at the east of the land of Moav and encamped in across Arnon. We did not enter the territory of Moav, as Arnon is the border of Moav. The Jewish people then sent messengers to Sichon the king of Cheshbon, asking him to allow them to cross through his land. Sichon refused to allow us to pass through his land and gathered his army to wage war against us. G-d handed over Sichon and his entire nation into our hands and we conquered all the lands of the Emorites, from Arnon until the Yabok, and from the desert until the Jordon.
  • Yiftach concludes his message: Now, G-d of Israel has driven out the Emorite on behalf of his people Israel and you desire to inherit it? Should it not be that whatever your deity Kamosh inherits on your behalf you shall inherit and whatever our G-d inherits to us we shall inherit. Are you any greater than Balak the son of Tzippor the king of Moav who did not fight or wage war against the Jewish people [despite them being in his midst]? The Jewish people have been living in these cities of Cheshbon, Aroer and Arnon for three hundred year. Why have you not said anything until now? I have not sinned to you, and you are thereby committing evil by waging a war against me. G-d will judge between the Jewish people and the nation of Amon.
  • Amon does not agree to step away from battle: The king of Amon did not listen to the message sent to him by Yiftach [and decided to continue with plans for war].

4. Yiftach makes a pact with G-d:

  • Yiftach travels to Amon to wage war: The spirit of G-d resided on Yiftach and he crossed the Gilad and land of Menashe, towards the land of Amon.
  • The pact-Consecrating his first greeter to G-d: Yiftach made a vow to G-d that if He would hand over the nation of Amon into his hands, then the first thing to leave his house to greet him upon his peaceful return home, will be consecrated to G-d and offered as an Olah sacrifice.

5. The battle and victory over Amon:

  • Yiftach approached the nation of Amon to battle them and G-d handed them into his hands. He smote twenty cities of Amonites, from Aroer until Boacha Minis. The nation of Amon became subjugated to the Jewish people.

6. Yiftach returns home and is greeted by his daughter:

  • Yiftach returned to his home in Mitzpah and his daughter came to greet him with tambourines and dance. She was an only child, as he had no other sons or daughters [of his own or from her, as she was not yet married[4]].
  • Yiftach realizes that he must consecrate his daughter: When Yiftach saw his daughter, he tore his clothing and said: Woe my daughter, you have frozen my blood, as I have made a vow to G-d and cannot retract it. The daughter replied to her father that he should do with her as he vowed, as G-d has granted them vengeance against their enemy Amon.
  • The daughter of Yiftach goes away for two months: She asked her father to allow her to go for two months down to the mountains with her friends in order to mourn her state of virginity. Yiftach agreed, and so she was sent for two months away. She and her friends went to the mountains to mourn her virginity. After two months she returned home to her father and he did with her the vow that he vowed. The daughter of Yiftach did not know any man [i.e. marry] throughout her life [and lived a life of seclusion in a special house built for her[5]]. [Alternatively, some say that she was literally sacrificed as a Karban Olah to G-d.[6]]
  • The annual visitation to Yiftach’s daughter: It became a set custom amongst Israel for the daughters of Israel to annually pay a four-day visitation to the daughter of Yiftach Hagiladi, in order to comfort her.


[1] Radak 11:1

[2] See Radak 11:3

[3] Rashi 11:11

[4] See Metzudos David, Radak 11:34

[5] See Meiam Loez 11

[6] See Radak 12:7 that he killed his daughter; Meiam Loez ibid

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