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Shabbat Parashat Chukat| 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: There Are No Shortcuts

Harav Yosef Carmel

The connection between the parasha and the haftara, which discusses the exploits of Yiftach against the Ammonites, is clear. The Ammonites grievance against Bnei Yisrael was that they were occupying the land of the Ammonites, who had rights to their land upon which Bnei Yisrael were not allowed to infringe (Devarim 2:19). Yiftach responded with a lesson in history that was based around our parasha. Bnei Yisrael had conquered that land in a defensive war against Sichon the Emorite, who in turn had previously captured the former Ammonite land. By the time it reached Bnei Yisrael’s hands, it had been “purified” from the mandate not to seize Ammonite land (see Shoftim 11:15-23).

There are a few things that need explanation in Yiftach’s speech. He goes into significant detail regarding not only the dealings with Sichon and thus Ammon’s land, but with Bnei Yisrael’s dealings with the Edomites (other “cousins,” from Eisav). The latter seems superfluous to the story of Yiftach. In describing the refraining from war with Edom, the Torah uses an unusual phrase: “the nation’s soul was shortened with the path” around Edom’s territory. The same phrase is used in the introductory section to the story of Yiftach, just that it is Hashem who has the “short soul.” This is a difficult usage not only because of anthropomorphism, but also from a literary perspective. The navi writes that Bnei Yisrael did that which is evil in Hashem’s eyes, that He gave them over to the control of enemy nations, and that they turned in remorse and teshuva (repentance) to Hashem. One would think that “all’s well that ends well.” The problem is, then: why does the navi end off that Hashem had a “short soul” due to the oppressive behavior of Israel? It is also strange that after the repentance, Bnei Yisrael turned to such a religious lightweight as Yiftach to be the leader just because he agreed to fight.

We will try to answer all of the questions with the help of one thesis. Regarding the teshuva of the individual, leaving the sin and clinging to His service is the only way to go about it. In contrast, in order for there to be general teshuva, there must also be a return to the Land of Israel. Rav Kook (end of Orot Hateshuva) says that there are no shortcuts. In order to get to the ideal state, even G-d fearers need to be reminded, and, if need be, by low-level people, that it is necessary to reconnect to Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael took on a short soul because the road to the Land became elongated. In the time of the Shoftim, there were many Jews who gave up hope on controlling all of the Land. Again the same phrase was used. The people chosen to remind the nation not to give up were specifically Yiftach and the undistinguished people around him. It is interesting that in modern times, as well, the person who awoke so many Jews, including pious ones, to the need to do teshuva regarding dedication to the Land was a Jewish journalist who had been assimilated and was quite bereft of practical mitzva observance.

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