Book of Judges Commentary - Part 2

The ideas expressed here are from various sources. There will be commentaries from chanoch, which will be clearly identified.

We utilize a website to read the source known as Mechon Mamre.

  • Link To Book Of Judges
  • chanoch adds: It is important to realize, according to the teachings of the Sages, two things. Each verse we read has 70 explanations. Each verse applies to us in this generation.

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 9


    At the end of Judges Chapter 8 we learned that after the death of Gideon (=Yeruba'al, "he who strives with Baal") the Children of Israel reverted "and they went astray after the Baalim and they put BAAL BRIS as god over them" (v. 33). It is unnecessary to try to imagine the ancient Israelites falling down and mindlessly prostrating to sticks and stones. The Talmud (B'rachos 12b) interprets the word VE-ZONU, "they went astray", lit. "they whored after", as implying that they entertained THOUGHTS of idolatry, which suggests that many may not have openly practiced idolatrous rituals but were ideologically alienated from their ancestral faith. In fact the ideology underlying certain kinds of idolatry can be seemingly highly profound and indeed very attractive to the enquiring mind.

    What exactly the ideology of BAAL BRIS was is hard to say. The Talmud (Shabbos 83) says that BAAL BRIS (lit. "master of the covenant") was identical with ZVUV, the god of the Philistines of Ekron. A ZVUV is a "fly". It may seem weird that anyone would worship a fly, though in fact flies have been even more successful than humanity in populating the world with their kind and can usually move a lot faster than even the best swatters. Whether this god was actually represented as a fly of some kind is open to question. The rabbis encouraged mispronouncing the names of idols in order to deride them. What is significant is that the Israelites, who were sworn to God's Covenant (BRIS), had now allowed the very concept of the Covenant, with the loyalty it demands, to become degraded. Thus the story of AVIMELECH - who burned up the people of Shechem who followed this idolatry - is essentially one of betrayal and its bloody consequences.


    We also learned at the end of Chapter 8 that Gideon had seventy legitimate sons and one son from his PILEGESH in Shechem. Under Torah law a PILEGESH is a woman that a man designates for himself as a concubine but without the ceremony of KIDDUSHIN (sanctifying a woman to oneself as a wife, the first stage of marriage) and without the protection of a KESUBA (the "marriage contract" guaranteeing the woman financial security even in widowhood or after divorce). The PILEGESH thus does not have the status of a wife and is considered somewhat disreputable: thus RaDaK on Judges 11:1 equates PILEGESH with ZONAH, "whore".

    Did Gideon call this son AVIMELECH - or did the boy that was born of this not-so-proper relationship take the name for himself? From Judges 8:31, a careful reading of the Hebrew suggests that he himself gave himself the name of AVIMELECH, which literally means "My father is king": thus he tried to cover over his disreputable origin using the KUDOS of Gideon. However, AVIMELECH also has the connotation of I WANT TO BE KING: AVI is thus from the same root as AVA, I want, as in EVIYON, the "poor one", who "wants" (see Likutey Moharan I, 10:4).

    Midrash Tanchuma contrasts this AVIMELECH unfavorably with AVIMELECH king of the Philistines in the time of Abraham (Genesis ch 20 etc.). " 'Better is a near neighbor than a distant brother' (Proverbs 27:10). Better was Avimelech king of the Philistines who gave great honor to Abraham, saying 'Here, my land is before you' (Gen. 20:15) than Avimelech son of Yerubaal who killed his brothers. Said the Holy One blessed be He to Avimelech: 'You wicked man. You killed SEVENTY MEN ON ONE STONE (Judges 9:5) - You will be punished': 'And a certain woman cast down the MILLSTONE (ibid. v. 53). 'He who digs a trap will fall into it and he that rolls a stone will have it come back against him' (Prov. 26:27)."


    The city of Shechem was designated for punishments from long before. It was there that Jacob's daughter Dinah had been raped, sullying the purity of his family and leading to the slaughter of the men of Shechem by Levi and Shimon (Gen. ch 34). It was to Shechem that Joseph's brothers went to graze and devise their plan to destroy him. The solemn ceremony of the Blessings and Curses (Deut. 11:29 ff; ibid. 27:11; Joshua ch 8) had been carried out on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eival overlooking Shechem. Joseph's bones had been finally buried Shechem, but since the death of Joshua there had been a steady decline in the Israelites that was expressed now in the corruption of the leadership. Faith and trust in God were replaced with mob appeal.

    In Shechem, Avimelech used his mother's family's influence to build a political base for himself founded not on loyalty but on popular resentment against the splendid dynasty of 70 princes that Gideon had established. Avimelech won over the BAALEY SHECHEM - the "owners", "masters" or "bosses" of the place with all the Mafiosi connotations that the term has. With money taken from the Temple of BAAL BRIS (was this the local bank?) Avimelech hired a gang of ruffians to form a private militia to carry out the bloody killing of his seventy paternal brothers.

    Only YOTAM was saved. The name implies "God (YO) is perfect/pure (TAM)" and is also an anagram of YATOM (="orphan"). To put his curse upon the murderer Avimelech, Yotam went up Mt. Gerizim . In the ceremony of Blessings and Curses, the blessings had been delivered from Mt Gerizim and the curses from Mt Eival. Yotam reasoned that if so, the blessings went in the direction of Mt Eival and the curses to Mt Gerizim, and thus the latter was a suitable location from which to send curses in the direction of the Bosses of Shechem. (In later time, after the exile of the Ten Tribes, Sennacheriv under his policy of population exchange settled the KOOTIM, who came to be known also as the SHOMRONIM - Samaritans - in Shechem. They semi-converted to Torah practice but later fell into idolatry and placed an image of a dove on the ill-fated Mt Gerizim, after which they were proscribed by the rabbis as idolaters. In many Talmudic editions the term KOOTI is used synonymously with NOCHRI or AKUM - oveid avodah zarah, "idolater".)

    Yotam's eloquent parable about the trees turning successively to the Olive Tree, the Fig Tree and the Vine to rule over them alludes to the growing degeneracy of the Israelite leadership. The Olive Tree alludes to Osniel ben Knaz ( Judah is compared to an olive tree -- Jeremiah 11:16). The Fig Tree alludes to Devorah, who gave the people sweet nourishment with her Song, while the Vine refers to Gideon. That Avimelech could be compared only with the pricky thorn bush which hurts anyone who touches it and affords scarcely any shade is symptomatic of the decline of the leadership.

    Our text (ch 9 v 22) states that Avimelech ruled over Israel for three years, implying that he was more than merely a local tyrant, although no heroic acts of national service are attributed to him. He was merely power-hungry. Nevertheless, he is considered the Seventh Judge of Israel, and was the first to actually be called MELECH ("king"; ch 9 v 6). He had about as much staying power as the succession of rickety governments with which contemporary Israel has been plagued in recent years: Avimelech ruled for only three years.

    The RUACH RAAH ("bad spirit") that God sent between Avimelech and the bosses of Shechem is also reminiscent of the break-up of so many latter-day Israeli political coalitions with all the accompanying betrayal and acrimony. Opportunism and shifting loyalty were the order of the day. "And all the bosses of Shechem. went and made Avimelech king" (v. 6). "And the bosses of Shechem BETRAYED Avimelech" (v. 23). "And Ga'al ben Eved moved into Shechem, and the bosses of Shechem TRUSTED IN HIM" (v. 26). Verse 25 illustrates the anarchy that prevailed: this verse is cited in Talmud Bava Kama 72b as the paradigm case of blatant robbery.

    Rashi states that GAAL BEN EVED "was from another people" (Rashi on v. 26). GAAL has the connotation of vomiting, and EVED is a slave. His influence over the bosses of Shechem illustrates the extent of the Israelite assimilation with the surrounding peoples. They listen when Gaal tells them they would be better off serving HAMOR FATHER OF SHECHEM (the Hivite, the archetypal serpent) than serving Avimelech (v. 28).

    Avimelech is the embodiment of degenerate MALCHUS (kingship). MALCHUS is identified with FIRE (see Likutey Moharan I, 4) - and Avimelech takes vengeance on the people of Shechem for their rebellion against him by going on a rampage of bloodshed and burning, moving from town to town to chase after and destroy his enemies.

    This was a horrible civil war the like of which had not been known among the Israelites. It was stopped only through the quick thinking and resourcefulness of the anonymous woman who rolled a heavy millstone down from the fortress tower of the city of THEBETZ , smashing Avimelech's skull just in time to prevent him setting fire to it. The moral of the whole sorry story seems to be that secular politics is a dirty business.

    After Devorah the quality of Judges declined significantly

    Judge Gideon - גִּדְעוֹן

    Predecessor is Judge Deborah - Successor is Abimelech

    Gideon (/ˈɡɪdiən/; Hebrew: גִּדְעוֹן‎, Modern: Gīdʿōn, Tiberian: Gīḏəʿōn) also named Jerubbaal[a] and Jerubbesheth, was a military leader, judge and prophet whose calling and victory over the Midianites are recounted in Judges 6-8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.

    Gideon was the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra (Ophrah). As a leader of the Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 "valiant" men. Archaeologists in southern Israel have found a 3,100-year-old fragment of a jug with five letters written in ink that appear to represent the name Jerubbaal, or Yeruba'al.

    Information about some Names

    The nineteenth-century Strong's Concordance derives the name "Jerubbaal" from "Baal will contend", in accordance with the folk etymology, given in Judges 6:32. According to biblical scholar Lester Grabbe (2007), "[Judges] 6.32 gives a nonsensical etymology of his name; it means something like 'Let Baal be great.'"

    Likewise, where Strong gave the meaning "hewer" to the name Gideon, Biblical scholar Simon John DeVries (1975) suggests the etymology "driver".

    The "besheth" part of the name "Jerubbesheth" (II Samuel 11:21) means "shame", a pious editorialization of "Baal" as is also found in Saul's son and grandson Mephibosheth.

    According to modern scholars, the use of both names "Gideon" and "Jerubbaal" reflects two originally independent sets of stories combined by an editor who wishes them to be seen as referring to a single character.

    Biblical narrative

    As is the pattern throughout the Book of Judges, the Israelites again turned away from Yahweh after 40 years of peace brought by Deborah's victory over Canaan, and Midianites, Amalekites and other Bedouin peoples harried Israel for seven years.[11] According to Louis Ginzberg's "The Legends of the Jews" "Elated by the victory over Sisera, Israel sang a hymn of praise, the song of Deborah, and God, to reward them for their pious sentiments, pardoned the transgression of the people. But they soon slipped back into the old ways, and the old troubles harassed them. Their back- sliding was due to the witchcraft of a Midianite priest named Aud. He made the sun shine at midnight, and so convinced the Israelites that the idols of Midian were mightier than God, and God chastised them by delivering them into the hands of the Midianties. They worshipped their own images reflected in the water, and they were stricken with dire poverty. They could not bring so much as a meal offering, the offering of the poor. On the eve of one Passover, Gideon uttered the complaint: "Where are all the wondrous works which God did for our fathers in this night, when he slew the first-born of the Egyptians, and Israel went forth from slavery with joyous hearts?" God appeared unto him, and said: "Thou who art courageous enough to champion Israel, thou art worthy that Israel should be saved for thy sake."[12] God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idolatry. The Angel of the Lord, or "the Lord’s angelic messenger" (Judges 6:11 NET) came "in the character ... of a traveller who sat down in the shade [of the terebinth tree] to enjoy a little refreshment and repose"[13] and entered into conversation with Gideon. The narrative has echoes of the meeting between Abraham and the visitors who came to him in the terebinths of Mamre and promised Abraham and Sarah, in their old age, that they would have a son (Genesis 18:1-15).

    The Angel of the Lord greeted Gideon: The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!

    Gideon requested proof of God's will by three miracles: firstly a sign from the Angel of the Lord, in which the angel appeared to Gideon and caused fire to shoot up out of a rock (Judges 6:11-22), and then two signs involving a fleece, performed on consecutive nights and the exact opposite of each other. First waking to his fleece covered in dew, but the surrounding ground dry. Then the next morning, his fleece dry but the surrounding ground covered in dew. (Judges 6:36-40).

    On God's instruction, Gideon destroyed the town's altar to Baal and the symbol of the goddess Asherah beside it, receiving the byname of Jerubbaal from his father:

    Therefore on that day he (Joash) called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.

    Judges 6:32

    He went on to send out messengers to gather together men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well as his own tribe of Manasseh, in order to meet an armed force of the people of Midian and the Amalek that had crossed the Jordan River, and they encamped at the Well of Harod in the Valley of Jezreel. But God informed Gideon that the men he had gathered were too many – with so many men, there would be reason for the Israelites to claim the victory as their own instead of acknowledging that God had saved them. God first instructed Gideon to send home those men who were afraid. Gideon invited any man who wanted to leave, to do so; 22,000 men returned home and 10,000 remained. Yet with the number, God told Gideon they were still too many and instructed him to bring them to the water. All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side. The number of those that lapped up the water raised to their mouths by hand was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water.[14] Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” (Judges 7:4–7).

    Night attack

    During the night, God instructed Gideon to approach the Midianite camp. There, Gideon overheard a Midianite man tell a friend of a dream in which "a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian" (Judges 7:13), causing their tent or camp to collapse. This was interpreted as meaning that God had given the Midianites over to Gideon. Gideon returned to the Israelite camp and gave each of his men a trumpet (shofar) and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside. Divided into three companies, Gideon and his 300 men marched on the enemy camp. He instructed them to blow the trumpet, give a battle cry and light torches, simulating an attack by a large force. As they did so, the Midianite army fled (Judges 7:17–22).

    Gideon sent messengers ahead into Israel calling for the Ephraimites to pursue the retreating Midianites and two of their leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon and the three hundred pursued Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings. When he had asked for provisions in his pursuit, the men of Succoth and Peniel refused and taunted Gideon. After capturing the two kings, Gideon punished the men of Succoth, and pulled down the tower of Peniel killing all the men there. Gideon invited his eldest son, Jether, to slay Zebah and Zalmunna, but being still young at the time, he did not have the confidence to carry out his father's request, so Zebah and Zalmunna called on Gideon to perform the deed himself. Gideon then killed Zebah and Zalmunna as justice for the death of his brothers (Judges 8:19–21). The place where Gideon slew Oreb after the defeat of the Midianites was called the Rock of Oreb. It was probably the place now called Orbo, on the east of Jordan, near Bethshean. Zeeb was killed at "the wine press of Zeeb".

    The Israelites invited Gideon to become their king and to found a dynasty, but he refused, telling them that only God was their ruler (Judges 8:22–23). G. A. Cooke, writing in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes the discontinuity between Ephraimite anger towards Gideon shown in Judges 8:1–3 and the proposition of kingship over [all] Israel, and therefore concludes that "these verses appear to come from a [secondary] source".

    Gideon went on to make an ephod out of the gold won in battle; according to Lois Ginzberg's "The Legends of the Jews" "..In the high priest's breastplate, Joseph was represented among the twelve tribes by Ephraim alone, not by Manasseh, too. To wipe out this slight upon his own tribe, Gideon made an ephod bearing the name of Manasseh. He consecrated it to God, but after his death homage was paid to it as an idol. In those days the Israelites were so addicted to the worship of Beelzebub that they constantly carried small images of this god with them in their pockets, and every now and then they were in the habit of bringing the image forth and kissing it fervently.";[16] according to the Bible this action eventually caused the whole of Israel to turn away from God yet again and the ruin of Gideon and his family. Gideon had 70 sons from the many women he took as wives. He also had a Shechemite concubine who bore him a son whom he named Abimelech, which means "my father is king" (Judges 8:31).

    There was peace in Israel for 40 years during the life of Gideon. As soon as Gideon died of old age, the Israelites again turned to worship the false god Baal Berith and ignored the family of Gideon (Judges 8:33). Louis Ginzberg's Midrash anthology The Legends of the Jews records the following remarks on Abimelech: "Tanhuma B 1 103. The parable of Jotham is said to refer to the prominent judges: Othniel [=Olive tree], Deborah [=fig tree], Gideon [=vine], and Elimelech [=bramble]. Tan. also states that Abimelech reigned for three years, as a reward for the modesty of his father Gideon, who in a "tripartite" sentence refused the royal crown offered him by his people; see Jud. 8.23. Abimelech, in contrast to his father [Jud.8.27], was very greedy for riches, and his end therefore came speedily; Aggadat Bereshit 26, 54., see also ibid., 52-53 where Abimelech's wickedness and greed was contrasted with the piety and liberality of his namesake Abimelech, the King of Getar. The ingratitude of the Israelites who permitted Abimelech to murder the children of their benefactor Gideon was counted unto them as though they had forsaken God; ingratitude is as grave a sin as idolatry; Yelammedenu in Yalkut II, 64."

    General Summary

    There was peace in Israel for 40 years during the life of Gideon. As soon as Gideon died of old age, the Israelites again turned to worship the false god Baal Berith and ignored the family of Gideon (Judges 8:33). Louis Ginzberg's Midrash anthology The Legends of the Jews records the following remarks on Abimelech: "Tanhuma B 1 103. The parable of Jotham is said to refer to the prominent judges: Othniel [=Olive tree], Deborah [=fig tree], Gideon [=vine], and Elimelech [=bramble]. Tan. also states that Abimelech reigned for three years, as a reward for the modesty of his father Gideon, who in a "tripartite" sentence refused the royal crown offered him by his people; see Jud. 8.23. Abimelech, in contrast to his father [Jud.8.27], was very greedy for riches, and his end therefore came speedily; Aggadat Bereshit 26, 54., see also ibid., 52-53 where Abimelech's wickedness and greed was contrasted with the piety and liberality of his namesake Abimelech, the King of Getar. The ingratitude of the Israelites who permitted Abimelech to murder the children of their benefactor Gideon was counted unto them as though they had forsaken God; ingratitude is as grave a sin as idolatry; Yelammedenu in Yalkut II, 64."


    Abimelech is not described as a judge and acted as a power hungry despot resonsible for killing 70 of his relations. His death is attributable to a women who "luckily" killed him before he caused greater havoc.

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 10

    Our sources contain scant information about the exploits of Tola ben Pu'ah of the tribe of Issachar who judged Israel after Avimelech, and very little about Ya'ir HaGiladi, who seems to have established a splendid dynastic empire with his thirty sons on their thirty foals and their thirty cities. Rashi on verse 6 states that even he was numbered among those who abandoned HaShem and did not serve Him.

    The deepening idolatry of the people now encompassed the cults of no less than SEVEN of the surrounding nations, despite the fact that God had saved Israel from SEVEN enemies (v. 6 & v. 11, see Rashi). This led to a terrible retribution in which the Israelites became subject to yet another "existential threat", this time from the Philistines and the Ammonites.

    The Ammonites, who not only gained sway over the territories of Reuven, Gad and half-Menasheh east of the R. Jordan but were now attacking the very heartland of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim (v. 8-9) were the offspring of Lot's incestuous relationship with his younger daughter (Genesis 19:38). Their territory was in what is today northern Jordan , whose capital, Amman , is named after them. The Ammonites' frightening successes against the Israelites left the distraught leaders of Gil'ad asking the same question that so many are asking today. "Who is the man who will start to fight for us.?" There is a vacancy for Mashiach: who is going to fill it?

    A contemporary of the judge Deborah (Judges 5:6). An angel appeared and told him to go out boldly and save his people. Destroyed the altar of Baal, later sought confirmation of God’s will by putting out a fleece twice for a sign. On God’s command, reduced his army from 32,000 to 300 and successfully crushed the Midianite army.


    Son of Puah; grandson of Dodo. The nephew and son-in-law of Caleb, and son of Kenaz,

    There were Gentile Kenizzite converts who joined the tribe of Judah. He became the first warrior-judge of Israel and delivered Israel from the oppression of the Edomites.

    Unlike the descriptions of other biblical judges, the first reference to Shamgar has no introduction, conclusion, or reference to the length of reign. He is said, however, to have killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad.


    A prophet, counselor, warrior, and wife. The only female judge mentioned in the Bible, Deborah led a successful counteratta

    Ehud was a left-handed Benjaminite. He killed Eglon king of Moab and ended Moabite domination of Israel.

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 11

    * * * Judges 11:1-33 is the Haftara of Parshas Chukas, Leviticus 19:1-22:1 * * *


    Like Avimelech, Yiftach (Jepthah) son of Gil'ad, the Tenth Judge of Israel, was also the son of a PILEGESH (concubine). However, despite being rejected by his half-brothers, the sons of Gil'ad's full wife, Yiftach did not follow the example of his blood-thirsty predecessor Avimelech but instead fled from the more "respectable" members of his family and "dwelled in the land of TOV" (="good", ch 11 v. 3). The commentators (Metzudos, RaDaK), explaining PSHAT, the simple, direct meaning of the text, say that Tov was the name of a man, the baron of that region (cf. Ruth 3:13, where Tov may also indicate a man's name). Yet it is clear that our allusive Bible is here teaching us something deeper. Yiftach was not a RASHA (wicked man) like Avimelech. He was a Tzaddik - a "good guy" with truly good intentions. The flaw lay in the fact that his righteousness was not combined with clear understanding of Torah. Yiftach wanted to do the right thing, but not being a scholar he did what he IMAGINED to be right and brought about a terrible tragedy. "Because he was not a BEN TORAH he lost his daughter. Even if a man is a tzaddik, if he does not study the Torah he is left with nothing in his hand" (Tanchuma).


    The Ammonite "existential threat" to Israel was described at the end of Chapter 10. The Ammonites were encamped by the town of Gil'ad , which is east of the River Jordan, south of the River Yabok about 30 km north of present day Amman . The broader region of Gil'ad stretches along the entire east bank of the Jordan from the northern tip of the "Dead" Sea up to the Kinneret. This region was part of the huge swathe of territories east of the Jordan which the Children of Israel captured from the Emorite king Sichon and Og king of Bashan as described in the later sections of the book of Numbers (ch's 21 and 32). They were given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half Menasheh, who took their portions east of the Jordan .

    Prior to the time of king Sichon this entire swathe of territories was under the influence of the sister nations of Moab and Ammon. Their lands had been promised by God to Abraham together with that of Edom as part of the "greater" Promised Land (Genesis 15:19-20, see Rashi), but they were only to come under the full possession of Israel in the "final settlement" at the end of days. Until then Moses was enjoined not to take from the lands of Edom (Deut. 2:5) or Moab (Deut. 2:9) or Ammon (Deut. 2:19). Deuteronomy ch 2 describes the primeval tribes of "giants" etc. who dwelled in these territories before their conquest by Edom , Ammon and Moab , and also describes the conquest by Moses of the territories which Sichon had conquered from Moab and Ammon.

    The reason why it was permitted for Israel to take possession of those areas previously occupied by Moab and Ammon that Sichon had conquered was because Sichon's conquest "purified" those lands of their association with the children of Lot (Gittin 38a).


    The Israelite presence in the areas of Gil'ad taken from Sichon drove a wedge between Ammon, who had been driven into the hinterland east of present-day Amman , and their sister nation Moab , who were left only with their territories south east of the River Arnon, (which meets the tongue-shaped "Dead" Sea approximately in the middle).

    This gave the Ammonites strong motivation to seek a CAUSUS BELLI against Israel, and when Yiftach sent messengers to the king of Ammon protesting their aggressions, the Ammonite king replied with an argument that has been repeated endlessly by Israel's enemies until this very day: "Because Israel TOOK MY LAND" (v 3). Moreover, the king promised exactly the same as Israel 's enemies until this very day. "And now, return them." (note how "my land" has seamlessly turned into the PLURAL) ".in PEACE". In other words the Ammonite king proposed exactly the same formula as Israel 's present day Arab friends: LAND FOR PEACE.

    The messengers whom Yiftach sent back to the king of Ammon gave him a detailed history lesson the purpose of which was to explain precisely the above-mentioned point: the territories which Israel took east of the Jordan no longer belonged to Ammon or Moab since they had been conquered by Sichon king of the Emorites. This refutation of the Ammonite claim is based on the principle that "the whole world belongs to the Holy One blessed be He: He created it and He gave it to whoever it was right in His eyes to give it. Through His will He gave it to them and through His will He took it from them and gave it to us" (see Rashi on Genesis 1:1).


    The Ammonite intransigence in spite of Yiftach's arguments (reminiscent of years of Arab "NO! NO! NO") left him with no alternative but to go to war to prevent them penetrating the very heartland of Israel (see Judges 10:9). The Spirit of God was on Yiftach, who advanced from the northern Gil'ad towards the Ammonite camp.

    The practice of vowing to make a dedication to God if He grants one's request goes back to Jacob, "head of those who take vows". After his dream of the Ladder during his flight from the wrath of Esau, Jacob had vowed to give God a tithe of everything if He would bring him home safely (Genesis 28:20ff). Likewise in the wilderness, when Israel was attacked by "the Canaanite" king of Arad (=Amalek, see Rashi on Numbers 21:1), "And Israel vowed a vow to God." (Numbers 21:2). Likewise, as we shall see when we begin the book of Samuel I, Hannah vowed that if she would be granted a child she would dedicate him to God.

    "Two vowed and were rewarded; two vowed and lost. Israel vowed and they won. Hanna vowed and she was rewarded. But Jacob vowed and lost, because his wife Rachel died, while Yiftach vowed - and lost his daughter" (Bereishis Rabbah 70).

    The fatal flaw that vitiated Yiftah's vow was that it was imprecisely formulated. The mark of the wise man is that "he sees what will develop" (Avot ch 2). Yiftah lacked the wisdom to see the hidden pitfall contained in the vow that he uttered at the height of his inspiration and enthusiasm. The vow was insufficiently articulated, and because its implications were not perceived by Yiftach at the time that he made it, he caused a terrible tragedy.

    It is hard when we enthusiastically make some commitment to stop for a moment to ask whether we will really be able to stand up to it. Sometimes people make wild offers and some MAZAL enables them to get out clean, but if the person lacks MAZAL it can lead to disaster. "Four asked improperly; to three He gave properly, but to one He gave improperly" (Ta'anis 4a). The four were Eliezer, servant of Abraham, Calev, Saul and Yiftach. Eliezer said that the first girl who offered to water his camels would be Isaac's wife - how did he know that she wouldn't be some lowly waif who was not fit for him? When Calev offered his daughter to whoever would capture Kiryat Sefer, how did he know that the man would not be disreputable. The same applies to King Saul's offer of his daughter to whoever would kill Goliath. Eliezer, Calev and Saul all had some MAZAL that ensured that despite their imprecise wording, they were not answered improperly. However, Yiftach apparently lacked something. He IMAGINED that the one who would first come out of the doors of his house to greet him on his safe return from the war would be some FAT OX or FAT LAMB that would make a fitting thanksgiving sacrifice to God, and it did not occur to him that perhaps it would be his own DAUGHTER.


    The laws of vows and oaths and their proper formulation is the subject of three entire tractates of the Talmud - NEDARIM, NAZIR and SHAVUOS. Had Yiftach been more of a TALMID CHACHAM (Torah scholar), he would have known that in fact he was under no obligation to offer his daughter as a sacrifice. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60) presents an intricate discussion between Rabbi Yochanan and his student-chaver Reish Lakish (Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish) whose meaning is readily comprehensible to those with some background in the above laws. Rabbi Yochanan maintains that Yiftach could have redeemed his daughter for money which he would then have dedicated to the purchase of a sacrificial animal, while Reish Lakish maintains that even this was unnecessary since "One who says of an impure animal or of an animal with a blemish that it is a burnt offering has not said anything" since these animals are not eligible as a sacrifice anyway. The same applies to Yiftach's daughter.

    Yiftach is an example of the many people who have very high principles but lack the detailed knowledge of the Torah to know how properly to apply them in practice. Yiftach IMAGINED he was bound by his vow, and his high-minded determination to carry out what he thought was his obligation brought him to an unparalleled perversity. Even Abraham was not commanded to KILL Isaac, and indeed according to the commentators, Yiftach did not actually KILL his daughter. Rather, she was condemned to remain unmarried in a state of permanent HISBODEDUS (isolation) and divine service except for the few days of the year when her maiden friends would come to comfort her (see Metzudos David on v 37 and RaDaK on v 40).

    The Midrash brings out the absurdity and criminality of Yiftach's condemning his only child to a life of celibacy, thereby destroying the continuity of his own line. Not only was Yiftach criticized but so too were all the rabbis and scholars of his time and even Pinchas the High Priest (who according to tradition was still alive despite the passage of over 300 years since he entered the Land with Joshua).

    Through a mixture of high principles and pride, Yiftach would not go to Pinchas to nullify his vow, although the HALACHAH specifically permits this. Likewise Pinchas would not go to Yiftach to nullify the vow, reasoning that his own status as Priest required that Yiftach should come to him. Between the two of them, the poor girl "died". Pinchas was punished with the withdrawal from him of holy spirit (Chronicles I, 9:20 - "HaShem was with him PREVIOUSLY"). Yiftach was punished with an illness akin to leprosy in the modern sense of the term, which caused his limbs to drop off one by one while he was still alive. For this reason "he was buried IN THE CITIES of Gil'ad" (ch 12 v 7) i.e. in several different places.

    Yiftach's daughter said to him: "Leave me for two months and I will go AND I SHALL DESCEND UPON the mountains" (ch 11 v 37). Since when do you DESCEND upon a mountain - first you have to GO UP??? These were not regular mountains. What she was really saying was, Let me go down to the elders of the Sanhedrin (who are called Mountains) in case they can find some release clause (PETACH, an "opening") from your vow.

    The Tanna deVei Eliyahu puts the responsibility for the tragedy squarely on the shoulders of the Sanhedrin. "Anyone who has the power to protest and does not do so carries responsibility for all the blood shed in Israel . The great Sanhedrin that Moses left behind him should have girded their loins with metal chains and lifted their garments above their knees and gone round to all the cities of Israel, one day in Lachish, one day in Eglon, one day in Hebron, one day in Beit El, one day in Jerusalem. and that way they could have taught them the proper way of doing things (DERECH ERETZ) in one, two, three, four or maximum five years until the land would have been properly settled. Instead, after Israel entered the Land, each one ran to his vineyard and olive tree and said, Peace be upon my soul - let me not have to make too much effort."

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 12

    The ruffled pride of the Ephraimites who felt that Yiftach had not involved them in the war against the Ammonites led more to bloody consequences. There is a suggestion in the above-quoted passage from Tanna deVei Eliahu that the Ephraimites that were killed if they could not pronounce SHIBBOLETH properly were involved in some kind of idolatry, because "SIBOLETH" is an idolatrous term, as when a man says "SA BEIL" ("Exalt BEIL", this being the name of a Babylonian god, as in Belshazzar in the book of Daniel.)

    Little is known of the succession of Judges enumerated in the latter part of Chapter 12, except for IVTZAN from Beith Lechem (verse 8), whom the rabbis identified with BO'AZ, known to us from the Book of Ruth. The Midrash tells that Bo'az lost all his thirty sons and thirty daughters because he did not show hospitality to Manoah, father of Shimshon, and thus he was childless when he married Ruth, who conceived Oveid, father of Yishai, the father of King David. As we thus approach the threshold of the dawn of David's kingship, the Bible steadily delineates the national crisis into which Israel had sunk, from which David would come to save them.

    Tola was probably from one of the leading clans of Issachar (Genesis 46:13; Numbers 26:23) but lived at Shamir in the territory of Ephraim.(also see Barak, Deborah’s military commander on Wikapedia).

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 13
  • JUDGES CHAPTER 13 and 14

    * * * The story of the birth of Samson, who was a Nazirite, Judges 13:2-25, is read as the Haftara of Parshas Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89, which includes the commandment of the Nazirite * * *


    From the time of Shimshon (=Samson) until that of David, the Philistines were foremost among the oppressors of Israel (just as the "Palestinians" who have adopted the Latinized version of their name are today). The Philistines originated from the descendants of Ham, whose son Mitzrayim gave birth among others to the Pathrusim and Kasluhim (Genesis 10:13). It was from between the two of them that the Philistines "emerged" (i.e. they were a "bastard" people, see Rashi ad loc.). A sea-faring nation, they spread to Crete and throughout the Greek islands into Greece proper, where they lived until the Dorian Greeks invaded and began to oppress them, causing many to migrate eastwards to the coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean . They were no match for the powerful Egyptians, who fought against them, but they were able to settle in the Land of Canaan and became particularly strongly entrenched along the entire coastal strip all the way from present-day Ashdod to the eastern arm of the Nile delta.

    The Philistines were new immigrants to the Land in the time of Abraham, who was also a new-comer. The fact that both had come to live in a new country might help explain why relations between Abraham and Avimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar, were cordial to the point that Abraham swore an oath not to harm Avimelech or his descendants to the fourth generation (Genesis 21:23ff). However, with increasing pressure on the Philistine communities in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, more and more were moving in waves into Canaan . Many came in the period of the Israelite exile in Egypt , and more entered during the early period of the Judges. They were fierce fighters and far more powerful than the Israelite settlers, who were mainly farmers without a centralized government or regular army. Through the sins of the Israelites the Philistines were able to gain power over them and dominate them.

    Kabbalistically, the "bastard" nation of the Philistines are emblematic of the most severe concealment of God's light. The Hebrew letters of their name, PHILISHTIM, are Peh (80) + Lamed (30) + Shin (300) + Tav (400) + Yud (10) + Mem (40) = 860 = 10 x 86. 86 is the gematria of the divine name ELOKIM expressing the attribute of GEVUROT, "mighty powers", restraint, severe judgment. In the Philistines, this attribute dominates in all their 10 Sefirot.

    It could be that Abraham, as the embodiment of CHESSED, kindness, knew that his offspring would have to be tested by and would have to overcome the husk of the Philistines and for that reason swore the oath allowing them to remain in the Land for the necessary period of time. By the time of Shimshon, the time had elapsed. As the Angel tells Manoah's wife, "For the lad shall be separated to God from the womb, and HE WILL BEGIN (YACHEL) TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM THE HAND OF THE PHILISTINES" (ch 13 v 5). "Said Rabbi Hama ben Hanina: The oath of Avimelech was annulled (HUCHAL), as it written, Do not betray me, my grandson and my great grandson" (Sota 9b).

    Those who imagine Shimshon as a muscled superman out of a wham-bam cartoon animation will be greatly disappointed on trying to penetrate the deeply-veiled allegory in our text with the help of our rabbis. The first surprise is that Rabbi Yochanan states that while Bilaam was lame only in one leg, Shimshon was lame in both! (Sotah 10). Who ever heard of a lame Superman? We may begin to unlock the mystery if we ponder the verse R. Yochanan cites as proof. While of Bilaam it is said "And he went SHEFI (has connotation of lame)" (Numbers 23:3), it says of Dan, "a serpent (SHEFIFON) by the path" (Genesis 49:17) - it is the doubled form of SHEFIFON that is the hint that Shimshon - the outstanding Judge from the tribe of Dan - was "lame".Our Sages teach us an invaluable principle: "One who prays for his friend while he himself is in need of the same thing will be answered first" (Bava Kama 92a). This tenet is derived from Iyov, who endured untold suffering. How did he reverse his fate? By praying for his friends! In the merit of praying for others, he was relieved of all of his hardships. Even more, he lived an additional 140 years and HaShem blessed him with great wealth and four generations of fine descendants. We find another example of this principle in the life of Avraham Avinu. When Avimelech seized Sarah, HaShem afflicted Avimelech and his entire household with a crippling illness. Avimelech acknowledged his guilt, and Avraham prayed for him. As a result of Avraham's prayers, HaShem blessed Avraham and Sara with a son.

    When we pray for others, feelings of love for them are awakened in our heart. HaShem, Who loves all of His creations, sees our compassion and answers our own request as well as our prayers for our friends.

    Envision Avraham Avinu praying for Avimelech. See his heart fill with empathy for the suffering of a fellow human being. Be inspired by Avraham's love for others. Consider a person who needs help and pray for him or her. (Based on the commentary of Rabenu Yona)

    "Dan will judge his people like one of the tribes of Israel " (ibid. v. 16) - this refers to Shimshon, the only judge contributed by that tribe. He is described as "biting the heels of the horse, his rider will fall backwards" (ibid. v. 17). In the wilderness, the tribe of Dan marched last, gathering in all the weak remnants and saving them from the Amalekite "serpent". It was now Shimshon's task to bite back - to use the bite of the serpent against the serpent itself in order to redeem Israel - except that he failed in his lifetime and succeeded only in his death.

    Shimshon's lameness has the deepest roots, as revealed by the ARI (in Likutey Torah on Judges), who explains that Shimshon was the GILGUL (incarnation) of ADAM HARISHON, the first man. Shimshon had the power to rectify Adam's sin, which came about through the eyes ("and the woman SAW" Gen. 3:6), but he failed, because "Shimson rebelled with his eyes, as it says, 'And Shimshon said to his father, take HER for me because she is right in my EYES' (Judges 14:3)". Accordingly, Shimshon was punished by having his eyes gouged out. After his capture by the Philistines, he was taken in "chains of copper" (NECHUSHTAYIM, related to the root NACHASH = serpent) and placed in the House of the Bound = Domain of the Kelipot, the "husks" (ch 16 v 21). Just as the serpent was condemned to crawl with no legs, so was Shimshon "lame".

    Just as Adam sinned and allowed his power to fall into the Kelipot, so did Shimshon. It was only with his death that he was able to take vengeance on the Philistines, the husks, and by pushing the PILLARS of their Temple - the LEGS that supported the entire structure - thereby redeem his own sin.

    Shimshon was a NAZIR although the rabbis are divided about the exact nature of his particular form of Nazirite status, which diverges somewhat from the normal Nazirite status as set forth in Numbers ch 6. Shimshon was forbidden to cut his hair at all, while a normal NAZIR would make his vow only for a specified period, usually 30 days, after which he was at liberty to cut his hair. Shimshon, like a regular Nazir was forbidden wine or anything deriving from the grape, but he was evidently permitted to defile himself with the dead, which is strictly forbidden to a Nazir who takes the vow himself. But since Shimshon was dedicated from the womb, he was subject only to the restrictions explicitly stated in our text, and we find him defiling himself with the dead by stripping Philistine corpses of their clothes etc. (ch 14 v 19; see RaDaK on Judges 13:4 for a detailed discussion of Shimshon's status).

    Zohar (Parshas Naso) explains that the NAZIR alludes to the divine PARTZUF of ARICH ANPIN, the "long face", which stands as KETER, the crown over ZEIR ANPIN, which is the "small face" where by God is revealed to the world. The sweetness of ARICH ANPIN rectifies the harsh judgments of ZEIR. Thus the attributes of the Partzuf of Arich Anpin include long white hair, which is bound up with the concept of the long hair of the NAZIR (each hair - SE'AR - is a SHA'AR or gateway - a channel of divine light. These revelations of kindness must not be "cut").

    Because of the NAZIR's association with this exalted level, he is forbidden to drink wine or indeed even partake of any part of the grape left after the juice is squeezed out, the lees. Adam's wife Eve "squeezed wine" from the primordial grapes but gave Adam the lees and husks - harsh judgments. It was through this unpurified wine that Adam fell, and Shimshon was to make the repair by being separated from wine.Our Sages teach us an invaluable principle: "One who prays for his friend while he himself is in need of the same thing will be answered first" (Bava Kama 92a). This tenet is derived from Iyov, who endured untold suffering. How did he reverse his fate? By praying for his friends! In the merit of praying for others, he was relieved of all of his hardships. Even more, he lived an additional 140 years and HaShem blessed him with great wealth and four generations of fine descendants. We find another example of this principle in the life of Avraham Avinu. When Avimelech seized Sarah, HaShem afflicted Avimelech and his entire household with a crippling illness. Avimelech acknowledged his guilt, and Avraham prayed for him. As a result of Avraham's prayers, HaShem blessed Avraham and Sara with a son.

    When we pray for others, feelings of love for them are awakened in our heart. HaShem, Who loves all of His creations, sees our compassion and answers our own request as well as our prayers for our friends.

    Envision Avraham Avinu praying for Avimelech. See his heart fill with empathy for the suffering of a fellow human being. Be inspired by Avraham's love for others. Consider a person who needs help and pray for him or her. (Based on the commentary of Rabenu Yona)

    Shimshon was to go down into the very lair of the husks - the Philistines - and take out any remaining divine sparks in order to then destroy the remaining husks and waste. This is why our text repeatedly speaks of Shimshon "going down" (ch 14:1 & 5 etc.). However, he "went after his eyes" and fell, revealing his own secrets to his Philistine wives and thereby falling into the net of the Kelipot. It may seem strange that Shimshon the Judge took Philistine wives - yet he is not criticized for this in our text, whereas if he had done anything sinful he would have been criticized (see RaDaK on ch 13 v 4). Shimshon's sin was that he was drawn after the "beauty" of his Philistine wives and instead of drawing out the holy sparks, he revealed all his holy secrets to them, causing more holiness to fall into the clutches of the Kelipot.

    Shimshon's tragic end should not be allowed to overshadow his tremendous power, which was not that of a Superman in the modern entertainment sense but literally that of ADAM. The rabbis stated that the fruit that Eve gave to Adam was wheat, figs or grapes. (In fact, because of the mysterious way in which midrash "works", it was all three!) The mystery of the FIG enters into the deep allegory of these chapters in ch 14 v 4: "And his father and his mother did not know, for it was from God, for he (? He ?) sought a PRETEXT (TO-A-NOH) against the Philistines". The word TO-A-NOH has exactly the same Hebrew letters as TE-ENAH, a "fig".

    The fruit caused Adam to fall to the realm of the husks - for one hundred and thirty-years he had relations with demons, chief among them "Lilith". This was why Shimshon had to take DELILAH, who was the embodiment of Lilith. Had he accomplished the Tikkun and not revealed his secret to her, he would have rectified everything and been the Redeemer. But the time was not yet ripe. "He will BEGIN to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (ch 13 v 5), but he was not able to complete the task. However, he "sought a PRETEXT" - he initiated Israel 's war of liberation against the Philistines and showed the Israelites that they could become free.

    He was called SHIMSHON from the root SHEMESH, the Sun = DAAS, Godly knowledge. The Rabbis said that Adam's very heel darkened the sun - i.e. through his sin, he darkened the light of DAAS. Abraham began the repair - "Abraham had a jewel which he hung on the sphere of the sun" - but the repair was still not complete. Shimshon had the power to finish it but he failed because the time was not ripe. Melech HaMashiach will complete the TIKKUN "and his name will continue AS LONG AS THE SUN" (Psalms 72:17).

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 15
  • JUDGES CHAPTER 15 and 16

    It must be understood that Shimshon's life came at the very end of the period of the Judges on the very threshold of the institution of the kingship under the prophet Samuel, the cycle of whose stories is told in Samuel I. After today's text a sizeable portion of the book of Judges still lies ahead of us before we reach the Book of Samuel, but the two episodes related in the last five chapters of Judges - Michah's idol (ch's 17-18) and the Concubine in Giv'ah (ch's 19-21) - in fact occurred early in the period of the Judges, as noted by the commentators. They are placed at the end of the book in order to characterize the deep national malady that prevailed throughout the period of the Judges in order to explain the need for the kingship.

    The narrative in our present text, with all its many riddles and deep allegories, reflects the situation prevailing immediately before the institution of the kingship. The Israelites had practically turned into a subject nation living in constant fear of their Philistine rulers. As the men of Judah complained to Shimshon, whom they saw as a dangerous provocateur: "Don't you know that the Philistines rule over us?" (ch 15 v 11).

    RaDaK in his lengthy introduction to the story of Shimshon (ch 13 v 4) notes that the Israelites were not fighting the Philistines at this time: Shimshon alone was engaged in a single-handed campaign against them. RaDaK states that it is unthinkable that Shimshon simply married idolatrous Philistine women without converting them, for if he had, he would have been criticized for violating the prohibition against intermarriage with other peoples (Deut. 7:3f). Likewise Rambam (Maimonides) in the Laws of Forbidden Relationships (Issurey Bi'ah 13:14) states categorically that one should not imagine that Shimshon married unconverted women. As in the case of King Solomon, who also took foreign wives, Rambam and RaDaK state that Shimshon converted them first. If Shimshon could be criticized, it is because he "went after his eyes" - he strayed from his original holy intentions because of some kind of "material desire" (on his exalted level). This showed that he did not convert them entirely LISHMOH (in the name of true conversion). Nevertheless, "it was from God" (ch 14 v 4) that he took Philistine wives. This was because "He sought a PRETEXT against the Philistines" (ibid.) in order to take revenge against them, and this is why God was with Shimshon and give him such success.

    RaDaK states that the Israelites in that period were not sufficiently God-fearing to be worthy of God's sending them complete salvation from the Philistines. Shimshon kept the Philistines in check through using the various "pretexts" that God arranged (the honey in the lion's carcass, the giving of Shimshon's wife from Timnah to another man, etc.) in order to terrorize and wreak havoc among them.

    Shimshon's heroism in single-handedly struggling against those seeking to deny the people of Israel their right to live at peace in their ancestral land is reminiscent of the courageous few who are today willing to defy the contemporary "political correctness" of latter-day Israel's so-called "peace camp", endorsed by its mainstream media and high court etc., which is essentially a policy of appeasement and capitulation to Arab terror. Just as the men of Judah tied up Shimshon and handed him over to the Philistines, so too Israel's latter-day appeasers have had no scruples about doing everything in their power to gag, strap, tie up and inhibit those who would defend the actual people of Israel from their worst enemies in the absence of any concerted government campaign against them.

    The subtle weave of riddles and allegories in our text makes for a colorful story replete with word-play and other mysteries leading up to the heart-rending conclusion in which Shimshon reveals his secret and falls prey to his barbaric enemies. "If I am shaved, my power will depart from me and I will become weak (VE-CHOLISI - I will be CHOL, profane) and I will be LIKE EVERY MAN (KE-CHOL HA-ADAM)". It is here that the deep inner truth of the allegory stares us right in the face. "If I fail, I will be like ADAM". Shimshon was the GILGUL (incarnation) of ADAM. His mission was to rectify Adam's sin, but he was unable to do so in his lifetime and could only take vengeance on the Philistines with his death.

    We see that Shimshon constantly called out to God and prayed for all that he needed. He was a CHATZOS JEW - he was awake and active from midnight (=CHATZOS), thus escaping the wiles of the Philistines who plotted to kill him in the morning (ch 17 v 3). Similarly every Jew can escape the wiles of the YETZER RA, the evil urge that lurks in wait to kill him each morning - by getting up long before the dawn in order to pray and study Torah thereby outwitting the YETZER, destroying its power.

    There was no end to Shimshon's ambition: he wanted to take all the sparks of holiness from the Philistines and thereby destroy them. But their GEVUROT (mighty powers) proved too much for him, because Israel was not yet ready for salvation. The five "captains" of the Philistines who offered Delilah money to extract Shimshon's secret are called "SARNEY Philishtim". The gematria of SARNEY is 320, alluding to the SHaCH Dinim (320 severe judgments) that hide Godliness from the world. The rabbis taught that Delilah tormented Shimshon by pulling out from under him immediately before he could climax. Embodiment of the evil demon Lilith, she thereby succeeded in steadily wearing him down until he came closer and closer to revealing his secret and finally did: his power came from his uncut locks. As discussed in yesterday's commentary, Shimshon the Nazirite's hair alludes to the hairs of the head of the Partzuf of Arich Anpin, source of all the sweetening mercies in the world. Once these were cut, the Shechinah departed from Shimshon without his even knowing it.

    The Talmud comments on the verse "and the lad grew and God blessed him" (ch 13:24) that He blessed him in his organ, because it was like that of a regular man but his seed was like a flowing river (Sotah 10a). All this creative power was captured by the forces of evil. "And he was grinding in the house of the prisoners" (Judges ch 16 v 21). "Said Rabbi Yochanan, 'grinding' is an expression having the connotation of sin. This teaches that each and every Philistine would bring his wife to the prison house to be impregnated by him" (Sotah 10a).

    The Philistine celebration of the capture of their most feared enemy and their praise of their idols for the victory was a terrible CHILUL HASHEM, desecration of God's Name. We shed tears as we read Shimshon's last prayer to God (ch 16 v 28). "Let my soul die with the Philistines" (v. 30): Shimshon was the true archetype suicide martyr, who gave his life to bring about an eternal KIDDUSH HASHEM (Sanctification of God's Name). He sacrificed the merit of one of his gouged eyes in order to take vengeance on his enemies in this world. The merit of his second eye is stored up in the World to Come (Yerushalmi Sota). There the truth of the mystery of Shimshon is known and revealed.

  • Link To Book Of Judges - Then scroll to Chapter 17
  • JUDGES CHAPTER 17 and 18

    Rashi on Judges 17:1 writes: "Even though these two portions about Michah (ch's 17-18) and the Concubine in Giv'ah (ch's 19-21) are written at the END of the Book of Judges, these episodes actually took place at the BEGINNING of the period of the Judges in the days of Osniel ben Knaz". Rashi's opinion follows that of SEDER OLAM (the ancient rabbinic historical Midrash giving the dates of all the main biblical events based on calculations of the years mentioned in the text and other hints). RaDaK, however, characteristically seeks to follow the simple PSHAT of the narrative, arguing in great detail that these episodes could equally well have taken place at the END of the period of Judges, between the time of Shimshon and that of Eli the High Priest. (See RaDaK on ch 17 v 1 & ch 18 v 1.)

    Nevertheless the very heavily-veiled tale of Michah and his idol has a timelessness that makes the question of when exactly it took place almost incidental. The NaCh is teaching us lessons that go beyond any specific time and place: The recurrent motif is: "In those days there was no king in Israel ; each man would do what was right in his eyes" (ch 17 v 6). The text presents the narrative without moralizing, leaving the student to seek to deduce and understand the subtle lesson and reproof.


    Michah is unidentified in our text except for his location in Mt Ephraim, but this does not necessarily mean he was from that tribe (cf. Rashi on Judges 17:7). The rabbis taught that he was called MICHAH because he was SQUASHED (nisMACH-MECH) in a building (Sanhedrin 101b) - alluding to the ancient Aggadah (tale, midrash) as brought by Rashi (ad loc.): "This was in Egypt . They placed him in a building instead of a brick. Moses said to the Holy One blessed be He, 'You have done evil to this people' -- Now, if they don't have bricks, they put the Israelite babies in the walls. The Holy One blessed be He replied: 'They are merely destroying thorns, for it is revealed before Me that if they were to live they would be complete villains. If you want, try and take one of them. Moses went and took out Michah."

    According to the rabbis, Michah should have been numbered with those who have no share in the world to come, but he was not for one reason: because his bread was available for passers-by (Sanhedrin 103a): thus we see that Michah showed hospitality to Yonasan ben Gershom in his travels.


    The rabbis stated that all of the divine names in the chapter about Michah are CHOL - they possess no holiness - with the exception of ch 18 v 31 (Shevuos 35b). What this means is that the prohibition against erasing one of the seven principal names of God does not apply to the divine names written in these two chapters, because the names had been taken and applied to idolatrous gods.

    Our text does not give any indication as to when the mysterious incident of Michah's confession to his mother of his theft of silver and her dedication to idolatry took place. The rabbis have handed down the tradition that Michah's idol came with the Children of Israel out of Egypt and indeed that at the very moment they were miraculously crossing the sea on dry land, the idol was going with them (Tanchumah). This idolatry was like an alien germ hidden and deeply embedded - "bricked up", as it were -- within the unconscious mind of Israel, ready to rise to the fore and test the people in later times. It is bound up with the mystery of the idolatry of the Mixed Multitude who went up with Israel out of Egypt . The disease engendered by this germ manifested in various ways in the later history of the people - such as in the idols that Jeraboam set up in Ephraim and Dan (the two key locations in our present text), and those which king Menasheh (son of Hezekiah) set up in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

    In chapter 17 v 5 we are told that "Michah had a house of god and he made an EPHOD and TERAPHIM." As discussed in the commentary on the story of Gideon, the Ephod was the apron-like garment of the High Priest to which the breast-plate, with its jewels inscribed with the names of the Twelve Tribes, were attached. Michah's EPHOD was clearly intended as a replica of that of the High Priest (it would have to be a good one to con the intelligent Israelites into believing, or at least half-believing in it). In Genesis 31:19 the TERAPHIM are Laban's gods - i.e. some kind of statuettes used for divination. Whereas the Holy Spirit that spoke through the High Priest's breastplate was channeled through the URIM VE-THUMIM, it was through the TERAPHIM that the fake spirit spoke to Michah's priest.

    radak on ch 18 v 5 offers two explanations of what the TERAPHIM actually were. "Some say this was a copper instrument showing the divisions of the hours whereby astrologers could determine the path of the stars. Others say that the astrologers have the power to produce at known times a certain form (TZURA) that actually speaks. And the sage R. Abraham Ibn Ezra has written that the most likely explanation in his opinion is that the TERAPHIM were in the form of a human made to receive the power of the supreme beings, and the proof is that the TERAPHIM placed by Michal (when Saul's soldiers came searching for David) caused the guards think it was David."


    The mystery of the veiled allegory in our text is immeasurably deepened when we learn from our rabbis that the opportunistic Levite who went up from Bethlehem and found himself a fat livelihood as Michah's private Priest was none other than the grandson of MOSES, although this is only hinted at allusively in the text. In ch 18 v 30 his YICHUS (pedigree) is given as YEHONASAN BEN GERSHOM BEN MENASHEH. In the Hebrew written text on parchment, it is traditional to write the NUN of MENASHEH "hanging" (TOLUI) above the line. If you remove this NUN from MENASHEH you are left with the letters of the name MOSHEH. Rashi states on this verse that it is out of honor for MOSHEH that the NUN was inserted to change the name (and thus somewhat obscure the connection between Yohonasan and his most illustrious grandfather). The Yerushalmi Talmud Berachos ch 9 indicates that MENASHEH alludes to king Menasheh son of Hezekiah (as mentioned above) who placed an idol in the very Temple . In other words, the same underlying disease was manifested in a variety of forms in the history of the nation.

    When the men of Dan pass through Mt. Ephraim on their search for new territory, they come to Michah's house, "AND THEY RECOGNIZED THE VOICE OF THE LAD, THE LEVITE." (ch 18 v 3). Once again the Midrash of the rabbis opens a tiny chink to hint at the profound depth that lies behind this mysterious allegory. "They said to him, 'Aren't you a descendent of Moses.' He replied, 'I have a tradition from the house of my father that a person should even hire himself out to AVODAH ZARAH rather than become dependent on others.' [The Talmud comments:] He thought this meant literal AVODAH ZARAH, idolatry, whereas the real intention was that one should even take on a demeaning job like flaying animal carcasses - a work (AVODAH) that is STRANGE, ZARAH, to oneself -- rather than depend on others. Later on, when King David saw that he was very fond of money he appointed him over the Treasuries, as it is written, 'and Shevu-el son of Gershom son of Menasheh was officer over the treasuries' (Chronicles I, ch 26). Was his name Shevu-el then? No, it was Yonasan, but this teaches that he RETURNED TO GOD (SHAV LE-EL) with all his heart." (Bava Basra 110a).

    So Yonasan was a Levite for whom the intended system of supporting the nation's spiritual teachers through tithes (the Levitical MAASER) was evidently not working in Bethlehem, forcing him to go off in search of opportunities for PARNASSAH, livelihood, wherever he could find them!

    This in itself is a reproof against the people of whatever time it was that this story occurred: by failing to support their teachers by the Torah system of tithes, they forced them to demean themselves and base their ministry on money, with all the attendant evils.


    In the commentary on Joshua ch 19 we have already discussed the fact that Dan took tribal portions both in the center of the Land and in the north. (See Joshua 19:47). Dan's main portion was in the center, in what is today the Tel Aviv-Dan region of Israel . This is where all the events in the story of Shimshon took place (Judges 13-16). The place names that recur both in the story of Shimshon and in that of Michah and the BNEY DAN - Tzor'ah and Eshta'ol - will be particularly familiar to present-day residents of Israel who know the road connecting the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway with the town of Beit Shemesh, "BETWEEN TZOR'AH AND ESHTA'OL".

    It was population pressure and the limitations caused by the Philistine presence in the south and center that led the BNEY DAN to search for more territory. The peaceful, idyllic Sidonian town of LAYISH which their team of five surveyors found, as described in Chapter 18, was located in the region of TEL DAN ("the mound of Dan") in the north of present-day Israel amidst the sources of the R. Jordan (Banyas etc.) The Sidonians were one of the Canaanite nations. The settlement of the western Galilee by the tribe of Asher and the eastern Galilee by Naftali had left the Sidonians of Layish isolated from their fellow Canaanites on the coast of present-day Lebanon, and this is why there was no-one to come to their aid when the BNEY DAN attacked them.

    Rashi (on ch 18 v 27) states that LAYISH is the same as LESHEM mentioned in Joshua 19:47. LESHEM is the name of the Jacinth-stone in the High Priest's breast-plate - this was the stone of the Tribe of Dan! When they came to this town they discovered a LESHEM stone, and they took this as proof that the location was destined for them from heaven.

    However, our narrative makes it clear that the BNEY DAN conquered their new territory not through divine miracles of the kind we read about in Joshua but through overwhelming military might against a people whose idyllic life had left them totally ignorant of the art of war. We also find that the BNEY DAN exhibited an extraordinarily overbearing, threat-laden attitude to both Yonasan the Priest and his boss-manager Michah. To Yonasan their attitude was basically, "Shut up and come with us", whereas they told Michah that if he made his voice heard he would be killed.

    Here we see how the enterprise of settling the Holy Land in order to live the life of Torah had been corrupted into territorial expansionism based on brute force, and legitimized with the veneer of religion through a "high priest" who was for sale to the highest bidder. Religion had thus been high-jacked for mundane goals and purposes, posing very perplexing issues for lovers of Moses' Torah.

    RaDaK and Metzudos David (on ch 18 v 30) both argue that Yonasan and his sons served as "priests" to the tribe of Dan only until the Ark was captured by the Philistines from Shiloh in the days of Eli, and that this is the meaning of the phrase "until the day of the exile of the land". However Rashi maintains that this fake religion continued until the days of Sennacheriv, who exiled the Ten Tribes. Rashi's view would link the idolatry delineated in our present text with the idolatry that eventually led to the exile of Israel .

    The Talmud states that the location of Michah's temple was only THREE MILES from Shilo and that the smoke of the Altar of the Sanctuary would mingle with the smoke of Michah's idolatrous altar. The Ministering Angels wanted to drive Michah out, but the Holy One blessed be He said, "Leave him: his bread is available for all passer's by" (Sanhedrin 103a). The mingling of the two columns of smoke indicates how very fine indeed can be the dividing line between true and fake religion.







    and Samson.

    Joshua 15:13-17 Judges 1:9-21; 3:1-11 1 Chronicles 4:13 Judges 3:31; 5:6 Judges 6:1–8:32 Hebrews 11:32 Judges 4:1–5:31 1 Samuel 12:11 Hebrews 11:32 Judges 3:12-30 Judges 10:1-2 Judge Description Reference The 12 Judges of Israel Studying the history and culture of the time 1 SAMUEL PAGE 1 Get Wisdom BIBLE STUDIES TERESASWANSTROMANDERSON.COM †Indicates individuals listed in Hebrews 11’s “Faith Hall of Fame” 7. JAIR (GILEAD-MANASSEH) 8. JEPHTHAH (GILEAD-MANESSEH)† Son of Gilead by a prostitute (Judges 11:1) 10. ELON (ZEBULUN) 9. IBZAN (JUDAH) 11. ABDON (EPHRAIM) Son of Hillel 12. SAMSON (DAN)† Son of Manoah Jair was said to have greatness and wealth. He had “thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities . . .” There seems to be some connection between these thirty cities in the land of Gilead and those in the Bashan (1 Kings 4:13). Driven away by his half brothers. The elders of Gilead brought him back and made him their chief at Mizpah. Jephthah refused to give up Gilead to the Ammonites. He fought the Ammonites and conquered 20 cities. He swore a foolish vow that cost him his daughter’s life Buried at Aijalon in Zebulun. Ibzan was a socially prominent man who had 30 sons and 30 daughters for whom he arranged marriages. Jewish tradition identifies him with Boaz of Bethlehem-Judah. Abdon, the son of Hillel, was a man of wealth and prominence. He had 40 sons and 30 grandsons. He was a native of Pirathon (near Shechem) and was buried there. An angel announced his birth, consecrated as a Nazirite (Numbers 6). A man of immense strength. Fatal fondness for Philistine women (Delilah). Lost his strength. Was blinded and then imprisoned at Gaza. Called to God, who allowed his strength to return. He pulled down the Temple of Dagon, killing himself and about 3,000 Philistines. Judges 10:3-5 Judges 10:6–12:7 Hebrews 11:32 Judges 12:11-12 Joshua 19:15 Judges 12:8-10 Judges 12:13-15 Judges 13:1–16:31 Hebrews 11:32 Judge Description Reference The 12 Judges of Israel 1 SAMUEL Studying the history and culture of the time PAGE 2 TERESASWANSTROMANDERSON.COM Get Wisdom BIBLE STUDIES †Indicates individuals listed in Hebrews 11’s “Faith Hall of Fame”