Printed from


Friday, 15 July, 2016 - 2:04 pm


A childless couple visited a rabbi to ask for a blessing for children. The rabbi told them he was going to Israel the following day, and he would pray for them at the Western Wall. “Write your request for children on a note and I will put it into the Wall.”

Five years later, the woman met the rabbi. “How have you been?” asked the Rabbi. “Do you have children?”

“Yes, we have eight children.”


“Yes. The first year I had triplets; the second, twins. The third, there were none. The fourth, I had one child. This year I had twins. That makes a total of eight children.”

The Rabbi was ecstatic. "Mazal Tov! Unbelievable news. Now tell me, where is your husband?”

“He is in Israel,” she says.

“What’s he doing there?”

“He went to the Western Wall looking for the note; he wants to retrieve it….”

The Haftorah of this week's Torah portion, Chukat, is in chapter 11 of Judges. It is the only time in Torah we find a Jewish leader and judge engaging in what appears to be human child sacrifice—and its lessons today are vital.

We read of Jephthach, a man who was born illegitimately in the city of Gilad. His half-brothers expelled Jephtach from their home. Jephtach, who was not raised in a home with good role models, went to live in the land of Tov. An outcast of his community, he built himself a name as a mighty and powerful warrior, surrounded by a gang of brute peasants. His life took a dramatic turn when the Israelite leaders begged him to lead them in battle against the oppressing Ammonites, who were subjugating the Jews from the East. For 18 years the Ammonites killed Jews, and no one could stand up to them. Jephtach, still pained over his expulsion, did not want to cooperate with them until they promised to appoint him as their leader.

Jephtach mobilized his tribe to battle. Before leaving his home to war, Jephtach vowed to G-d: "That shall come forth from the doors of my house towards me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall be to the Lord, and I will offer him up for a burnt-offering."

Jephtach triumphed at battle. He dealt the Ammonites a lethal blow and restored peace to the region. Yet, he soon discovered the stupidity and tragedy of his ill-fated vow. When he arrived home, someone who did not know of his vow came out to greet the war hero with music, dancing and drums. It was his only child, his daughter.

The Torah relates, "And he said, "Go," and he sent her away for two months; and she went with her companions, and she cried...upon the mountains.

"And it was at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he did to her...which he had vowed."

It does not say explicitly what happened. Did he murder his own daughter?

The Rabbis in the Midrash are, naturally, aghast by the horrific and morally disgusting behavior of Jephtach. First, he was not bound whatsoever by the vow he made, as it clearly transgressed the rules of the Torah. I can’t make a vow that I am going to kill you, or even steal from you, or put you into seclusion. Second, I can’t make a vow on another human being, even it would be something permissible. I can vow that I will never eat cake; I can’t vow that my child will never eat cake. Third, according to Torah law, a human being can’t be a sacrifice. So the entire vow is senseless. 

The High Priest at the time was Pinchas, a great scholar and a holy man. Had Jephtach only consulted with Pinchas, the grandson of the High Priest Aaron, he would have been informed of his error. Pinchas would have immediately nullified his vow, and that would have been the end of the story. But that didn’t happen. Why?

Jephtach was too arrogant to travel to Pinchas to receive guidance. He thought, “I am the general of the Israelite forces, and I should go to Pinchas?!”  Pinchas felt he should not travel to Jephtach: “I am the High Priest; how can I go to an ignoramus?!” As a result, says the Midrash, this poor girl was lost.

Both were punished severely. Pinchas lost all of his Divine inspiration. Jephtach fell ill and he lost many of his limbs. As he would travel, his limbs crumbled and fell from his body.

The Midrash relates that his own daughter pleaded with him that G-d loathes human sacrifices. No moral Jew ever sacrificed his child. Jacob, she said, vowed he would give from all that he has to G-d, yet he never sacrificed a child. Hanna dedicated her son to G-d, but she never sacrificed him. Why would you?

But the boor would not listen.  “I made a vow. Can anyone who makes a vow violate it?” Jephtach asked.

Religion and piety without wisdom, perspective, and Torah guidance are worthless and dangerous. When religious people are fools they become lethal. They impose on G-d all their stupidity, rashness and cruelty. Faith must come with Torah, reflection, study, education, and assertion of reason.

The cruelties of the 21st century are mind staggering, yet for the most part, the world is silent. Just yesterday, dozens were slain in France, all in the name of religion. People hear of the sadistic acts of ISIS and don’t blink. Each video they produce of their sadism is crueler than the one before. The subjugation, abuse, torture and murders of scores of innocents does not provoke the compassion of the civilized world.

But here we have it. Religion without Torah—without critical thinking, perception, perspective, enlightenment, clarity of what G-d really wants from humanity—can become the worst evil.

Can Jephtach's story possibly be a parable for each of us? Do we sometimes not make similar mistakes, albeit in more subtle and refined ways? Do we not sacrifice our children on the altar of money, fame, gluttony, addiction, or apathy? On the altar of our stubbornness to fight and never compromise just to take revenge on a spouse or former spouse? On the altar of rash, impulsive decisions that we lack the courage and humility to confess?

The second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, (who lived in the same house as his father, the Alter (Older) Rebbe. His father was on the top floor, he was on the bottom), was once sitting in his room deeply engrossed in Torah study while, in the same room, his youngest child slept quietly in a crib. Suddenly, the baby rolled out of his crib onto the floor and began crying. So immersed in contemplation was the Middle Rebbe that he did not hear anything and continued his studies.

The Alter Rebbe was sitting in his room, on the upper floor of the home. Although he was also immersed in study, he nonetheless heard the baby crying. He came downstairs, entered the room and lifted up the baby, relaxed him, and put the baby back in the crib. After he had rocked the baby back to sleep, he returned to his studies. A while later, the Alter Rebbe rebuked his son and said: "One must never be so immersed in his studies that he does not hear the cry of a child. One must never ignore the child’s voice crying.

If religion, or any type of deity, makes us deaf to the sound of the child crying, we must remember we might be worshipping a G-d crated in our image rather than a G-d who creates us in His image.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

There are no comments.