We see this with David Hamelech, Moshe Rabbeinu, Yosef Hatzaddik, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, Yiftach HaGiladi (Jephte of Gilad) and more.
Let's look at the saga of Yiftach (Shoftim/Judges 11:1-12:7), which also features in the Haftarah for Parshat Chukat.
Yiftach, like some other people in Tanach, did not start out from such noble stock.
Like Gidon, he was born into one of the smallest & least prestigious of the Tribes: Menashe.
Furthermore, his mother's status (which influences Yiftach's status) lacks propriety.
The Torah uses a term for her which could mean that she was a pundakeet (a woman who runs an inn — and while not forbidden, it's not a proper job for a bat Melech), or that she married out of her Tribe (again, not forbidden, but not the proper thing to do either), or that she was simply Gilad's pilegesh (concubine) — a woman permitted to him & faithful to him, but who is involved with him without the benefit of Kiddushin (marriage).
The truth is, none of these theories contradict each other, so she could have been all three.
Anyway, Yiftach's father, Gilad, also had an official wife. (I don't know whether Gilad's relationship with Yiftach's mother occurred before Gilad's proper marriage or during, though it sounds like before.)
At one point, Yiftach's half-brothers (from Gilad & Gilad's official wife) decided to banish Yiftach from their entire community.
Declaring they didn't want Yiftach inheriting with them from Gilad, they chased him out by force.
And the elders of that area supported the actions of Yiftach's half-brothers.
Let's stop here for a moment and examine what happened to Yiftach here.
Yiftach's Traumatic Experience
After all, the son of a pilegesh is still a son.
The pilegesh is wholly faithful to her man; there is no doubt as to who is the father of her child.
Yet even if the Yiftach's half-brothers didn't know this halacha, the elders certainly did!
Furthermore, the half-brothers chased out Yiftach with a great deal of force, say the commentaries. Described as a gibbur chayil later chosen to lead the battle against the powerful Ammonites, Yiftach must have been both physically imposing and a skillful combatant.
I don't know whether he physically fought back against his half-brothers, but the commentaries say they chased him out aggressively (maybe they took a strong offensive due to his size & skill, even if he didn't end up fighting back).
This is very serious because you have extremely aggressive and halachically wrong actions...supported by not only by Yiftach's own Tribe — but by the elders of his own community within that Tribe (which was also called Gilad, like his father).
And Yiftach was all on his own. He had no other full sibling, nor do the text or commentaries mention other family members.
This all sounds profoundly traumatic.
Where Yiftach Crosses the Line from Good into Great
But he also ends up as their leader; they willingly follow him.
And he apparently enjoys the good life in the land of Tov.
Yet Yiftach's physical prowess & charisma don't go unnoticed by his Tribe.
At one point, the same elders of Gilad make their way to the land of Tov and approach Yiftach with an offer: They want him to fight the powerful Ammonite nation on their behalf.
They immediately offer him chiefdom before even stating their request.
But Yiftach reminds them how they hate him and drove him out from his father's house:
"And why have you come to me now when you're in distress?"
The elders don't even try to play games with him. (You know, like, "Oh, but Yiftach our brother, YOU didn't understand...it was all a big misunderstanding!" or "Oh, are you still upset over THAT? C'mon, you're bigger than that..." or "Look, no one could be completely sure about your paternity, so you gotta understand this was the only way.")
Instead, the elders basically say, "Yeah, that IS why we've come now. Exactly. Now, come on; let's get going with this conquest."
But Yiftach has one more stipulation: If Hashem delivers the Ammonites into Yiftach's hand, Yiftach wants to be more than a military chief; he wants to be their leader.
So Yiftach travels back with them to Gilad and he rejoins his birthplace and his people.
And he also maintains his connection with Hashem. (He doesn't move forward without praying first.)
Why Yiftach is a Real Gibbur Chayil
Yet all in all, Yiftach who was an am ha'aretz of ignoble birth (and his ending is so great either), merited not only to become a Shofet, but also merited an entire chapter about him in Tanach.
Not all the Shoftim earned more than a brief mention.
Furthermore, when he needed it for his role as Judge, ruach hakodesh rested upon him.
So what's behind the success of Yiftach, who was prioritized by Chazal as the LEAST of the Shoftim?
So it's like this:
Yiftach could have told the elders to go jump.
Yes, he could have.
Yiftach was enjoying the good life in Tov with his band of merry men.
He didn't need to be affected by an Ammonite invasion of Menashe.
Also, if Menashe really found itself in trouble, other Tribes could come to the rescue (as they did).
Furthermore, Yiftach was a religious person. Not a scholarly one, but a religious one. (Everyone was religious back then.)
If the people merited it & Hashem wanted them to win, so they would.
Simple as that.
Finally, couldn't Yiftach gloat in the persecution of Menashe?
"Oho!" he could have said with the smuggest of smirks. "Now you're on the other side of the stick. How does it feel, eh? You know what? You had your chance. You could've stepped up to plate when I was down for the count, but you didn't. You made your bed — so go lie in it and leave me the heck alone."
And then he could have cheered on the Ammonites. ("Stick it to 'em! Yeeeeah!")
He really didn't have to care.
Also, he was already a successful leader in Tov. What did he need the prestige of Tribal leadership for? For what did he need the responsibility of people who'd treated him so badly and seemed not to like him at all?
But not only did Yiftach did step up to bat...he performed marvelously.
He saved his Tribe and then as their leader, he was a good & honest Judge.
In other words: not one smidgen of retaliation.
He consistently behaved with goodness & fairness to the same people who had so badly hurt and rejected him.
And Yiftach was always whole with Hashem. Whether he was living as the unwanted brother in Gilad or cruising as the leader of empty-headed men in Tov or presiding over Am Yisrael as a Shofet, Yiftach held on to his emunah.
Ultimately, Yiftach was loyal.
Despite everything, Yiftach maintained loyalty to Hashem and thus, loyalty to his Tribe.
He was there for them when they really needed him.
And that's the example to learn from.
Why Yiftach was a Real Gibbur — a Real Winner
But in general, we're supposed to know that Hashem is behind everything and not take stuff personally.
We are supposed to overcome our pain and do the right thing no matter what.
Rav Avigdor Miller has stressed that love of our fellows must emanate from a love of Hashem — and that's what happened with Yiftach.
The text mentions how he prayed and spoke to Hashem.
Yiftach was able to overcome his trauma and preside with good grace over the same people who'd hurt him so badly because of his emunah.
As the Pele Yoetz reiterates throughout, a rodef shalom is only made when peace flees a person and he must pursue it.
If the peace stays serenely with a person, then there is no need to pursue it and thus, such a person cannot be a pursuer of peace.
Likewise, the Pele Yoetz also asks rhetorically whether a man can be praised for his good behavior if his household is pleasant & accommodating.
If his wife, children, and household staff always behave with him pleasantly & accommodatingly, says the Pele Yoetz, then what's the big deal for him to be Mr. Nicey-Nice in return?
Where's the challenge? Of course he's nice to such nice people!
But, says the Pele Yoetz, if his wife his difficult and his family & household staff try his patience, then a man who behaves pleasantly to such people — HE deserves praise! He's the winner.
That's real middot.
Why Yiftach's Half-Brothers & the Elders of Gilad Do NOT Reflect Badly on Am Yisrael as a Whole
Unfortunately, Jew-disdainers look to magnify scenarios like the above as examples of those "bad Jews" in Tanach and why Hashem rejected the Jews (chas v'shalom) in favor of believers in the gospels.
And sometimes unthinking Jews themselves wonder what there is to be proud of when we have ancestors who behaved like Yiftach's half-brothers & the elders of Gilad.
(There's a LOT to be proud of! So many of our ancestors did magnificently wonderful things!)
So again, to reiterate the point of the Pele Yoetz: Being really nice to people who are really nice to you does NOT mean you are a nice person.
It could mean that, but it doesn't have to.
After all, being surrounded by pleasant & accommodating people does not incite you into behaving not-nice.
Therefore, if you want to be a truly good person, then you need to behave with integrity & love in situations when you are being treated UNfairly & UNlovingly & UNpleasantly.
This means that Hashem must put you in such situations.
In other words: To be the kind of person who responds to darkness with illumination, you must be placed in a dark room.
Your light can never be seen in the brightness of the noonday sun.
In order to see your light, there needs to be darkness.
And that's why these persecutions of very good & innocent people needed to happen.
These persecutions do not reflect on Am Yisrael as a whole.
These people NEEDED for them to happen. So Hashem activated these events.
How Bar Kamtzah Not Only Missed the Boat, But Sank the Whole Ship
We see that behaving with love & integrity & emunah in the face of terrible rejection is the cornerstone for true greatness and also for Mashiach (Ruth, King David, and Leah Imeinu were all terribly rejected at some point.)
But the opposite is also true.
In the infamous story of Kamtza & Bar Kamtza, Bar Kamtza found himself faced with terrible rejection & humiliation — rejection & humiliation that occurred with the seeming agreement of the great rabbis seated there.
It was a much lighter version of what happened to Yiftach and others.
Yet was was Bar Kamtzah's reaction?
SEETHING HATRED. REVENGE. RETALIATION.
Bar Kamtzah actively sought to hurt the people who hurt him — and he involved a powerful enemy nation in order to execute his plan.
It was the exact opposite of how our greatest people responded to pain & rejection...
...and it led to the Destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash, which still remains desolate 2000 years later.
Elevating Yourself & Your Nation (or not)
Yet we also see that taking the higher road in response to rejection & pain leads to the highest levels of human achievement: nevuah (prophecy), ruach kodesh (a lower level of prophecy), and Mashiach.
So we see that our response to pain, rejection, betrayal, persecution, and unfairness holds the key to our own personal greatness & National success...or not.
- The Tragic Story of Kamtza & Bar Kamtzah
- Loneliness & Rejection as Aspects of Mashiach
- Who is a Real Rodef Shalom?
- The Overlooked Prophetess: Chana
- The #1 Path to True Greatness & Achieving Your Absolute Best: Rejection, Isolation, and Being Quashed
- What Tanach Teaches Us about Responding to Rejection & Persecution