How many of us doubt our ability to be of service to God and others? Sometimes such doubts are because of our age, like Jeremiah who tried to reason with HaShem,
Then I said, “Alas, ADONAI Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak! For I’m still a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Or maybe like Moses, who despite his really good upbringing didn’t see himself as a good orator, we too don’t see ourselves as any type of an adequate orator,
But Moses said to ADONAI, “ADONAI, I am not a man of words—not yesterday, nor the day before, nor since You have spoken to Your servant—because I have a slow mouth and a heavy tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
Or maybe still, like Isaiah we are painfully aware not only of our own failings but the failings of all those with whom we are associated,
“Oy to me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Then there is Abraham who is remembered as the father of the Jewish people but was an idolater for at least seventy-five years before HaShem called him and Sarah and set them on their journey to the land of promise.
Notice that I began this roll call with Jeremiah as a youth and ended with Abraham and Sarah in their advanced years, the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeremiah. Age should never be a distraction or a qualification that limits us from serving ADONAI.
This week’s haftarah is Judges 11:1-33, which records the accounts of Jephthah’s beginnings through his defeat of the Ammonites. Often when speaking about Jephthah (Yiftach in Hebrew), his rash vow immediately comes to mind causing us to ponder the mystery concerning his only daughter. This week, however, we will instead look at Jephthah himself. Our passage begins,
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a prostitute, while Gilead was Jephthah’s father. But Gilead’s wife bore him sons, and when the wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You won’t inherit in our father’s house, for you are a son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Some worthless fellows joined with Jephthah and went out with him. (Judges 11:1-3, TLV)
If you think you have problems in your life that keeps you from serving HaShem, consider Jephthah. He seems to have been the eldest son of his father through an illicit relationship with a prostitute. The lineage was apparently well-known as his half-brothers as well as the elders of Gilead (Judges 11:7) eventually drove him away. He seems to have become a freebooter. (I just learned that word this week. It is how Michael Fishbane in the JPS Haftarot Commentary described him.) A freebooter is one who goes about in search of plunder; a pirate; a buccaneer (dictionary.com).
In a past teaching in Shulhan Shelanu (Our Table), Rabbi Dauermann wrote the following,
Jephthah was a man whom God used mightily to rescue Israel from their enemies, but he could easily have thought, “Oh, God could never use me!!” He was the son of a prostitute, which meant that everyone in his culture thought of him as permanently dirty; his half-brothers, who were influential men, despised him and threw him out of town; he ended up being a leader among other outcasts but away from his home city. But he didn’t let any of those excuses keep him from being available to be God’s special leader when the opportunity arose. (Bold emphasis is mine.)
In other words, Jephthah, with all his past and present baggage, stepped up to the plate and in the process served as a judge in Israel for six years (Judges 12:7). Jephthah could have let his past dictate his response and not help those in need – but he didn’t. He did what had to be done, trusting that HaShem would see him through it all. Without a doubt, he made some mistakes along the way—who of us does not make mistakes along the way? The key is not to let our mistakes, our past, or our age define us as we seek to serve HaShem.
Thinking about reasons for not serving the HaShem, I am reminded of another individual, this time from the Besorah (the New Covenant Scriptures). While the context is different, the sentiment remains the same. In Matthew 8, a Roman centurion met Yeshua on the road and asked him to heal his servant who lay paralyzed and tormented at home. Then Yeshua responded,
“I’ll come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Master, I’m not worthy to have You come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:7-8)
I realize that the centurion’s words were a recognition of authority. But his qualifying statement, “Master, I’m not worthy to have You come under my roof,” echoes Isaiah’s proclamation mentioned above. How often do we feel unworthy to come into HaShem’s presence, or even to attempt to serve him with all the baggage that we have collected on our life’s journey? Looking at the lives mentioned above we see that HaShem is just waiting for us to be willing to step up and to do or be whatever he needs us to do or be. It doesn’t matter whether we are to defeat the invading Ammonites or to be the conduit for someone in the need of healing, it is his power, compassion, and grace operating through our willingness that has the potential to touch, heal and deliver those around us.
Remember, we are his hands and feet in this world. May we all be willing to do as he calls.
The Torah reading for Chukat is Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 and the reading from the Besorah is 1 Corinthians 10:6-11.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.