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Mysterious Ways

Feb 15, 2023

וַיִּבְרַ֤ח יִפְתָּח֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י אֶחָ֔יו וַיֵּ֖שֶׁב בְּאֶ֣רֶץ ט֑וֹב וַיִּֽתְלַקְּט֤וּ אֶל־יִפְתָּח֙ אֲנָשִׁ֣ים רֵיקִ֔ים וַיֵּצְא֖וּ עִמּֽוֹ׃

So Yiftach fled from his brothers and settled in the Tob country. Men of low character gathered about Yiftach and went out raiding with him.

va-yiv-RAKH yif-TAKH mi-p'-NAY e-KHAV va-YAY-shev b'-E-retz TOV va-yit-la-k'-TU el yif-TAKH a-na-SHEEM ray-KEEM va-yay-tz'-U i-MO

Judges 11:3

By Rabbi Elie Mischel

Whatever else might be said about America’s last two Presidents, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, one thing is indisputably clear: the moral image of the American presidency has seen better days. Joe Biden regularly lies about his past, and it seems certain that he and his corrupt son profited from shady dealings in Ukraine and China. Meanwhile, Donald Trump regularly insults his rivals and shuns humility of any sort. 

How can God allow people who reject fundamental truths of the Bible to become the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth? Does their success imply that God has rejected or given up on us?

The Bible answers this question with a resounding “no!”

When the Bible introduces Jephthah, the future judge and leader of Israel, it does so with great honesty:

“Jephthah the Gileadite was an able warrior, who was the son of a prostitute… So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the Tob country. Men of low character gathered about Jephthah and went out raiding with him.” (Judges 11:1-3)

The son of a prostitute, Jephthah spent his days with men of low character, leading them on raids of innocent travelers. His sole redeeming quality was that he was an “able warrior.” And this man became the leader of all of Israel!

Despite his flaws, the Sages explain that Jephthah must be respected:

“Scripture also says, “And Samuel said to the people, It is the Lord that made Moses and Aaron” (I Samuel 12:6)  and it says [in the same passage], “And the Lord sent Jerubbaal [Gideon] and Bedan [Samson] and Jephthah and Samuel” (I Samuel 16:11). [We see therefore that] the Scripture places three of the most questionable characters on the same level as three of the most estimable characters, to show that Gideon in his generation is like Moses in his generation, Samson in his generation is like Aaron in his generation, Jephthah in his generation is like Samuel in his generation, to teach you that the most worthless man, once he has been appointed a leader of the community, is to be accounted like the mightiest of the mighty.” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 25a)

In this passage, the Sages are making an extraordinary point. God is the Master of this world; nothing happens on earth without His involvement. In some generations, God chooses to bless the nation of Israel with great and holy leaders like Moses, Aaron and Samuel. But in other generations, God gives the people of Israel flawed leaders like Jephthah and Samson. Regardless of the quality of our leaders, one thing remains the same: God is in charge!

Despite their moral flaws, men like Jephthah and Samson served as God’s messengers on earth. They led God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, to great and miraculous military victories! Similarly, in modern times, leaders like David Ben Gurion, an avowed atheist, merited to lead the people of Israel back to the Holy Land and establish the State of Israel. 

Why does God choose to bring salvation through flawed and immoral people? This is a great mystery, a mystery that reminds us that God’s ways and understanding are infinitely deeper than our own. But one thing is clear – regardless of who our leaders may be, God never abandons us to chance. The events of this world are all a part of God’s plan, the wisdom of which we will one day merit to see!

Related Names and Places: Jephthah

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 11

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