The haftarah for Chukat is from the book of Shoftim (Judges). It tells the story of how Jephthah became Judge and won a battle against Amon.1

Jephthah was the son of Gilead; however, his mother was a harlot. His half-brothers—the sons of from Gilead’s wife—drove Jephthah out. They said to him: “You will not inherit in our father’s house because you are the son of another woman.”2 He ran away from his brothers and settled in the land of Tov. Empty people gathered around him and would go out with him, like a gang.

Not long afterwards, Amon went to war against Israel. The leaders of Gilead (the name of a region, as well as Jephthah’s father) went to Jephthah, and asked him to become their chief and lead Israel in battle against Amon. After some discussion, he agreed on the condition that they appoint him leader first, which they did.

After being appointed leader, he sent a message to the king of Amon asking why he was fighting against Israel. He responded: “Because we want our land that you captured when you came up from Egypt.”

Jephthah sent back a message with the information found in this week’s parshah explaining that when we came up from Egypt, we went around the territories of Edom, Moab and Amon because they wouldn’t grant us passage through their lands. The land we captured was the land of Emori, which waged war against us, and G‑d gave them into our hands. If you are correct, Jephthah reasoned, why hasn’t anyone made this claim in the past 300 years? He concluded with a strong warning that “G‑d the Judge will judge today between the Children of Israel and the Children of Amon.”3

The king of Amon did not pay heed to Jephthah’s words.

The spirit of G‑d was upon Jephthah, and he went to war against Amon. He took an oath that if he were victorious, he would offer the first thing that would come out of his house to greet him as a sacrifice. He had a massive victory, and Amon was now under Israel’s rule.

The connection to our parshah is that Chukat tells of how we went around Edom, Moab and Amon, which was mentioned in the message from Jephthah to the king of Amon. It also tells about the amazing victories over Sichon the king of Emori, mentioned by Jephthah.

Another connection is that in the parshah, the Jewish people took an oath similar to that of Jephthah.4

There are more similarities: When Moses sent messengers to Edom, it says, “And Moses sent messengers.”5 When he sent messengers to Sichon, it says, “And Israel sent messengers,”6 even though it was Moses who actually sent them. Rashi7 explains that this is similar to the verse in the haftarah; when Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Amon, it says, “And Israel sent messengers.”8 This teaches us that “Moses is Israel and Israel is Moses because the nasi [‘leader’] of the generation is like the whole generation because the nasi is everything.”9 Similarly, Jephthah is Israel and Israel is Jephthah.

The Talmud tells us that “Jephthah in his generation is like Samuel in his generation.”10 What does this mean? There seems to be no comparison between the two. Samuel was a holy and righteous man; Jephthah was not. Samuel was learned in Torah; Jephthah was not. Rather, it tells us that the leaders we have are appointed by G‑d, and we are obligated to accord them with the same respect. Also, it is a mitzvah to follow the laws set by the court of the time. And though Jephthah’s court was not at the level of Samuel’s, we were still obligated to follow its rulings.11

The haftarah stops before the end of the chapter, where it tells us the tragic story of what became of Jephthah’s oath.12 When Jephthah came home from his victory his daughter came out to greet him, dancing with a tambourine. She was his only child, and she was the first to come forth from his house. He realized his grave mistake and tore his garments in grief. He told her of the oath he had taken.

A smart girl, she brought proof that one is not permitted to sacrifice a human. He didn’t want to hear it. She brought proof that he wasn’t obligated to keep this kind of oath. Again, he wouldn’t accept her arguments.13

She asked him for two months and said: “I will go down onto the mountains,” which meant that she was going to go to the Sanhedrin (High Court) and show them that she is a pure maiden, hoping that perhaps they would annul the vow.14 In fact she was right. Her father was not obligated to keep his oath; at most, he would have to bring a sacrifice in her stead.15 But he was ignorant, proud and stubborn, and wouldn’t hear it.

What happened to her? There are two opinions. Some say that he actually killed her, and that every year the maidens of Israel would lament her fate for four days. Others say that he built her a home where she was secluded for the rest of her life, never marrying. According to this opinion, four days a year the Jewish maidens would visit her and share words of comfort over her tragic situation.

The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) at the time was Pinchas. He could have annulled Jephthah’s oath, but pride got in the way. Pinchas said: “He needs me, and I should go to him?” And Jephthah said: “I am the chief of Israel, and I should go to Pinchas?” Between the two of them, the girl was lost. They were both punished for this. Wherever Jephthah went, limbs would fall off his body and be buried there, and Pinchas lost his Divine inspiration.16

This is not included in the haftarah because it has no connection to the parshah. I included it because Jephthah’s oath is mentioned in the haftarah, and the lesson is pertinent to all.

Jephthah was the judge for six years.

What are some of the lessons from the haftarah?

First, G‑d doesn’t always give us the holiest person as our leader; He gives us the leader we need and (perhaps) deserve.

Second, anyone who wants to do G‑d’s will can have the spirit of G‑d with him, even a person like Jephthah.

Third, although Jephthah was a boorish man, we see from his words and actions that he believed in G‑d. Perhaps our current leaders can learn from him how to stand up against the enemies of Israel—with truth and without fear—knowing that G‑d is with them.

From the story of Jephthah’s daughter, we learn not to take vows lightly and not to let pride get in the way of better judgment.

May we merit to have great and holy leaders, and may we have true peace and the entirety of our land, with the greatest leader of all, Moshiach. The time has come.