Torah from Around the World #278

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Parashat Chukat (

Numbers 19:1-22:1)

By: Rabbi Eric Polokoff,

B’nai Israel of Southbury

, Connecticut, USA


Israel, about 30 centuries ago.




Jephthah’s Daughter

Jephthah’s Wife

Members of the Board of the World Union

for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ)


(The crowd is cheering Jephthah, the tough new leader).

– “Welcome back!”

– “You the man!”

– “Take the battle to them!”

– “Remember Heshbon!”


(Pauses from waving to hush the crowd.) “That was 300 years ago, but O Israel, we do remember Heshbon. It’s all recorded in the Torah, at the end of this week’s very portion, Chukat. And it’s even mentioned at the beginning of Deuteronomy. We recall how in our trek from Egypt the Amorite King Sihon refused us simple passage and mustered his army to slaughter us. Of course, Heshbon has come to mean ‘account’ or ‘bill’ and it’s with fitting justice. For our ancestors defeated Sihon and since that time, indisputably Heshbon has been ours. That is until now. Without claim or provocation the Ammonite king now says the territory is his. We tried to reason with him, but to no avail. Clearly, Sihon is intent upon war. So we will Remember Heshbon! And may God again be with us!”

A Voice in the Crowd:

“Sir, what will you sacrifice to seal your victory?”


A good question. (He ponders, then begins to nod, and holds up his hand to give a solemn pledge.) If I return victorious to my home, then the first thing that greets me I will offer up as a burnt offering. You can quote me on that.


(Amidst great applause Jephthah struts up to his front yard making the V sign with both hands, though looking more Nixonian than Churchillian. This is omitted from the Haftarah.)

Jephthah’s Daughter

(running towards him, arms outstretched): Twenty towns! A total rout!  Mazal Tov Abba!


(face aghast) Uh-oh.


(Later that same day, and also not included in the actual Haftarah. See instead the Midrash Gen. Rabbah 60:3 and Tanhuma Bechoktai 7.)

Jephthah’s Wife:

(A well dressed woman, looks up and stares at him coolly.) You’re kidding me, right?


: (Shrugging) What can I do?  God help me, an oath’s an oath.

Jepthah’s Wife:

(Anger rising) Why not speak to Pinchas, the High Priest?  There must be some technicality here.  After all, you weren’t in a minyan.  And people are not kosher-for slaughter. Did you skip Hebrew school the day the Binding of Isaac was studied?


I sent Pinchas a message, asking him to come see me immediately.  Only he refused.  He said that since he’s the High Priest, I should go to him.  But I can’t do that – I’m chief!

Jephthah’s Wife

: You’re not going to him?!


: I can’t.  I’m the man –

Jephthah’s Wife

: I thought Yiftach meant open – but you’re closed, Jephtah, and closing out.  Some warlord. When considering this very circumstance in the future they’ll quote not you but a real man named Micah.  I can hear his words already:

Would Adonai be pleased with thousands of rams?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for my sins?  God has told you, O Mortal, what is good and what Adonai requires of you: only this: to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.


: And what’s that supposed to mean?

Jephtah’s Wife

: God doesn’t want a human sacrifice of our daughter – simply the wherewithal to do what’s right.

WUPJ Board

(entering, ignoring their surprise): Not to eavesdrop but we couldn’t help but hear your talking about the future.  We happen to live in the future.


: (to his wife) Who are these people? And why do they have Rio tags on their luggage?

Jephtah’s Wife

: (turning to the group, speaking icily) Can’t you see we have a very serious problem we’re trying to resolve?

WUPJ Board

: (unperturbed)

– That’s why we’ve come.

– We’re Progressive Jews who care about justice, fairness, equality.

– We’re offering you an opportunity to change history.

– As for the tags – we’ve just got back from our international convention, held for the first time in Latin America.  Our message is worldwide.


: (musing) South America… there are Jews there too… (Hardening) But can’t you see… there’s never a way out.

Jephtah’s Wife

: At least listen to these Progressive Jews.


: What can they do?

WUPJ Board


– We can tell you something about sacrifice – it’s a free-will offering from down in your kishkes – not a sword to the innards.

– Take it from us, there’s a way out of this mess.  Don’t accept the status quo.

– There are people out there – like your daughter – to be protected.  And that’s the job of a Jewish leader.

– Otherwise, past successes – like your last battle or the victory over Sihon at Heshbon – won’t account for much.

– And if we can do this in the future, then you can go find the High Priest Pinchas to re-think things before the ink dries on the scroll.

(They exit)

Jephthah’s Wife

: They’re right you know.


: How can you be so sure?

Jephthah’s Wife

:  Can’t you see, we can’t fully predict where our actions will lead us. After Israel defeated Sihon who would have thought that three centuries later the area would suddenly be contested?  Or that the one big casualty in all that time could be our daughter?


:  That’s the price we pay. We can’t escape global events. What happens in the larger world invariably invades our inner family.

Jephthah’s Wife

: And that’s why fairness and innovation are so important. Remember Heshbon!


: So you’re also a Progressive Jew…

Jephthah’s Wife

: (pointing out of the room) Caucus with Pinchas!


: (shaking his head defiantly) I have a position to protect.

Jephthah’s Daughter

(entering): Get me re-write.

(Curtain Falls. The End.)

Cain Yehi Ratzon. Be this God’s Will.

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