First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-a-leaders-vow/
Baal Haturim Numbers: Matot
A Leader’s Vow
Vows are made in storms and forgotten in calm weather. -Thomas Fuller
One of the more disturbing stories in the Bible is that of the Israelite leader, Yiftah, in the Book of Judges. He was an outcast, but apparently with some leadership qualities. He attracted and led a band of ruffians. When the people of Israel are threatened, the elders turn to Yiftah for military assistance.
Before battle Yiftah takes an oath, that if God gives him victory over his enemies, in thanksgiving, Yiftah will sacrifice to God the first thing to greet him upon his successful return home. Perhaps Yiftah imagined a lamb would run to him, or some other livestock would cross his path. However, upon Yiftah’s successful victory and subsequent return, none other than his beloved daughter, his only child, runs out to greet her victorious father. Yiftah tears his clothing in anguish, and the simplest reading of the verses indicate that he does kill his daughter as a human sacrifice to God.
The Baal Haturim on Numbers 30:2 explains that it is the nature of Israelite leaders to make vows and call for divine intervention when their people are in trouble. However, all the Rabbis are in agreement that Yiftah erred grievously, first, in making such a poorly worded vow, and second, in fulfilling such a dastardly act that is abhorrent to God. There is a procedure in Jewish law for rescinding poorly made vows that Yiftah should have availed himself of.
May we avoid vows. But if we make them, we should make them wisely and fulfill them honorably.
To Miriam Cohen of Melbourne. May any and all vows be filled with blessings.