The Haftarah for Parshat Chukat is Shoftim/Judges 11:1-33—the saga of Yiftach/Jephteh.
This saga receives most of its attention because of the vow Yiftach made, which was not handled properly & therefore affected his daughter tragically (whether she actually died or spent her remain years in mountain-dwelling solitude; the commentaries say both).
However, the striking aspect of Yiftach's story really lies in why such a person merited the position of Shofet/Judge.
He ranks as one of the 3 lowest-level Judges (Shimshon & Gideon are the other 2).
The Sages consider Yiftach an am ha'aretz. Yiftach also comes from lackluster yichus.
After being chased off his own Tribal land by both his own half-brothers AND his respected elders, Yiftach ended up outside of Eretz Yisrael in the land of Tov as the head of a bunch of empty people & leading a materially good life. (It sort of sounds like the ancient Middle East equivalent of moving to Malibu or Tahiti.)
No one ever came to his aid. His own Tribe, his own family, and all of Am Yisrael basically abandoned him.
Yet when his Tribe needed him, he came back.
Yiftach left behind all his worldly pleasure & kavod to help out the very people who'd hurt him most.
The SAME ones!
Furthermore, as Shofet, he judged them without favoritism or resentment throughout his entire service: pure, unadulterated fairness & justice.
And if you go through Tanach, you find among the greatest this same dynamic again & again & again.
Name that Rejection!
Today, so many people suffer rejection of some type for whatever reason:
- Baalei teshuvah & converts may feel rejected for not being FFB.
- Many baalei teshuvah & converts also experience rejection of some sort by their families or cultures of origin.
- Non-white Jews may feel rejection due to their race.
- An immigrant often experiences some kind of rejection or lack of sensitivity in their new culture.
- Widows, divorcees, people with chronic illness, disabled people, etc. tend to experience some form of rejection, discrimination, or insensitivity at some point.
- Sephardi Jews may feel rejected due to their ethnicity (including nusach, dress, & customs)
- Chassidim can feel rejected by non-Chassidim
- Litvaks can feel rejected by Chassidim
- Rejection can occur from one Chassidic group to another.
- A child feels persecuted by a teacher.
- A child is persecuted or rejected by a school or yeshivah.
- A child experienced bullying from his or her peers.
- A child feels rejected by a parent.
- A person feels rejected by a rabbi or rebbetzin.
- One spouse experiences rejection as abuse from the other spouse.
- Siblings sometimes bully or snub one another.
The list goes on & on.
Unfortunately, the response to this always ends up in the form of exhortations to be nice to others.
Raising awareness & calling for sensitivity are good & important actions.
However, they never achieve their intended goal because there will always be people who either don't care (i.e., not very nice or even abusive people) or simply because people aren't perfect.
For example, even normally sensitive kind-hearted people can find themselves in a situation where they mess up, lack sensitivity for that particular situation, or find themselves in a weak moment (due to their own stress, exhaustion, pain, or illness).
Conversely, the elephant in the room tends to be how some people who complain about rejection exhibit extremely difficult behaviors, which prompt even the nicest people to avoid them.
They can be: bitter, cynical, mocking, controlling, manipulative, drama queens, complaining, critical, hypocritical...and yet I've personally heard these types express shock, outrage, and betrayal when others don't give them what they want.
They go into this O-Woe-Is-Me mode & can sound very convincing.
And no matter how compassionately & sensitively you try, you cannot explain to them their part in the negative dynamics.
They refuse to even entertain the idea that maybe they cause their own rejection via their own insufferable behavior.
However, the points here apply to them too!
Whether the rejection comes from others or from your own not-so-sterling middot, the principles & strategies laid out here remain the same.
Reading through Tanach struck home the realization that most of us simply MUST go through rejection by our nearest & dearest (whether family or community or religious authorities or all of the above) in order to become great & complete a very important tikkun.
Nothing is More Painful & Scarring than Rejection from Your Own
But please realize: When I undergo this kind of rejection (and I have), I feel just as devastated by it as you do.
Rejection by your own causes tremendous anguish.
That cannot be minimized.
The people you care about, the people you respect & crave their approval (and who, if they follow basic halachah, should also care about you—at the very least, they should beware of stumbling in onaat devarim or other person-to-person sins)...
...their rejection hurts the most.
It's much worse than rejection by a stranger or Jew-hatred from a non-Jew.
Jew-hatred can really hurt (especially if it gets physical or weaponized), but it's not as emotionally excruciating as when it comes from your own.
BECAUSE rejection by your own feels so devastating, THAT is why it either makes you or breaks you.
(It it does break a lot of people.)
Nothing else in the world can challenge you like rejection by your own.
And that's why Yiftach merited what he merited.
On his own, Yiftach did not deserve to be a Shofet.
But as someone who rose so nobly above the worst kind of rejection?
He became so great, he earned an eternal position in Tanach as a Shofet, with his personal story clearly written out for all time.
Why Does a Road Feel Rocky to One Person, But Another Experiences the Same Road as Smooth?
Many try to convince us that it's solely a social problem that affects all of us EXACTLY THE SAME.
They're sincere, well-meaning people. That's honestly how they see things.
Meaning, they try to convince us that if you are this-and-such, you will go through this-and-such unpleasant experience.
However, a thorough clear-eyed examination of our communities prove that is simply not true as a certainty.
(Meaning, it's true individually, but not as an absolute.)
For example, not every non-white Jew experiences discrimination.
Not every child suffers in school.
Not every spouse suffers in a rejecting marriage.
Not every person who consults with a rabbi or rebbetzin suffers unwarranted harshness, bad advice, and rejection.
I've talked to divorcees who felt they received great support in their community. One expressed appreciation for her community's shemirat halashon to the point that many people did not even know she was divorced!
And I've seen divorcees receive a lot of support (including one who did not deserve it, but people helped her so her child wouldn't suffer as much).
We see that even in the same situation, one person enjoys a positive experience while the other suffers a negative experience.
For example, one child thrived in a school while another suffered in that same school.
A spouse who acted like a jerk in a first marriage goes on to be good in a second marriage (making it look like the problem must have been with the other spouse—even if that's not true).
One non-FFB feels accepted by their frum community while another feels rejected by that same community.
One divorcee receives support while another faces rejection.
External reasons often exist for the above dichotomies, but the point is that the nisayon of rejection comes from Hashem.
It does not HAVE to be that way...but for THAT person, for whatever the reason, it IS that way.
And so...it's uncomfortable to say the following, but I cannot help noticing that:
If you have the potential for true greatness, you simply must experience rejection from your own fellows at some point.
The Messianic Paradox: Lineage to Mashiach Entails Rejection
However, it's SO MUCH more than that.
David Hamelech could NEVER have achieved who he was & what he did (including being the progenitor of Mashiach) WITHOUT having experienced rejection by his own brothers, his father, King Shaul, and many more.
Ruth not only stood out as a lone convert in the Tribe of Yehudah, but she looked different too.
The difference between a Moavite & a Yisrael was obvious at first sight.
We don't know how Moavites looked, but they did not look like Bnei Yisrael.
Not only that, Am Yisrael hated Moav because of Moav's terrible treatment of Am Yisrael.
They were sort of like the Nazis or the Cossacks of that time.
And here comes Ruth, with her obviously Moavite appearance.
How well did she speak Hebrew? What kind of accent did she have?
I don't know.
One midrash says that initially, Boaz needed to protect Ruth from the young men because the young men wanted to throw her off a cliff in their great hatred & rage against anything Moav. (Heard this in a Rabbi Wallerstein shiur).
Yet Ruth persevered.
She is eternally remembered as the paradigm of loyalty—which led to royalty.
Ruth entered into the lineage of Mashiach.
In fact, if you look throughout the lineage of Mashiach, it's riddled with rejection.
Miriam HaNeviah faced humiliating rejection with great bitachon & emunah—and merited to become an ancestor of Mashiach via her marriage to Kalev ben Yafuneh from Shevet Yehudah. (Miriam originally hailed from Shevet Levi.)
This is why it is so important for people to take their experience of rejection to the next level.
Yes, take comfort from stories of our greatest who suffered rejection from their own.
But realize too that's also part of a vital (albeit excruciating) process.
Modern Examples of Greatness & Rejection
Rav Avigdor Miller, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, the Satmar Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Aryeh Levine, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, and many more dealt with rejection from fellow Jews.
People slandered them with bald-faced lies behind their back.
They experienced insults to their face.
They don't emphasize the abuse much, so you need to infer it from what others say or from the rare occasions they mention it. Sometimes, you need to read between the lines of their humor to perceive the maltreatment they suffered.
And the rejection came from both frum & non-frum people.
In the Bitachon Weekly, a story of a very big rav appeared in which someone passing by him while the rav was learning overheard the rav murmuring prayers that his wife would be nice to him (or something like that).
He was known for having a difficult wife, no matter how nicely he treated her.
In pre-WWII & Holocaust memoirs like A Daughter of Two Mothers, Leichu Fruchter recalls the well-intentioned yet cruel & greedy act she and her mother suffered. Her mother especially suffered from this act for years.
Yes, they both noted that seemingly frum Jews carried out this act. And at least one shul rabbi (not a Gadol, just a pulpit rabbi) knew about it, yet did nothing to rectify the terrible misdeed.
But at the same time, this did not detract from the many other wonderful, special frum Jews they knew & loved.
In fact, neither Leichu nor her mother made this the center of their lives. It provided a monumental nisayon for Leichu's mother—one she astoundingly managed to overcome.
And that catapulted Leichu's mother into true sainthood.
(For more on that story—if you don't mind spoilers—you can read this: http://www.myrtlerising.com/blog/scaling-the-steepest-mountain)
Also, Leah Kaufman's heart-wrenching memoir Live! Remember! Tell the World!: The Story of a Hidden Child Survivor of Transnistria includes a couple of disturbing incidents such as when around age 10, Leah was discovered by a couple of secular Jewish traitors while she was posing as a non-Jew during the Holocaust after her entire family was murdered.
They shoved her on a Nazi train full of Jews bound for the inhuman death camp Transnistria. From that train, she watched in shock, rage, and terror as one of the traitors held out his hand to a Nazi to receive his reward of a pack of cigarettes.
"My life had been traded for a pack of cigarettes...Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine that I would be betrayed by my own people." (page 88)
(If you haven't heard of Transnistria, it's because only 3 Jews survived that hell. Leah Kaufman is the only child survivor.)
She contrasts their horrific betrayal to the kind treatment & protection she received from the Ukrainian non-Jewish woman who cared for her until that point.
Leah also mentions a few other incidents of insensitivity by otherwise very good-hearted Jews or outright maltreatment, but overall, she recalls her fellow Jews with profound appreciation.
Overall, her fellow Jews are GOOD.
Though terribly painful when these incidents occurred, Leah somehow managed to overcome whatever pain & rage she initially felt to achieve a state of true ahavat Yisrael.
Leah used the wonderful love & education techniques she received from her home & later from her teachers in Canada, combined with what she learned from her painful experiences, in order to be both the best teacher & best Jew she could possibly be.
(I'm pretty sure I actually met her at one point years ago. Leah Kaufman is definitely a wonderfully sensitive, perceptive, and intelligent Jewish woman. I only had a short encounter with her, but it was memorable due to her caring & feelings of achva/fraternal soul-connection toward others.)
Again, the point is not to spotlight the negative.
Most frum Jews are good people. And many secular Jews possess wonderful potential.
The point is that none of these people would have achieved the greatness they achieved without going through this miserable nisayon of being rejected or betrayed by their fellows.
If you can rise above the anguish & bitterness, you can achieve a level of greatness impossible to achieve otherwise.
And that's why the nisayon exists.
Trapped or Freed?
Yet at some point, we need to deliver the deeper & higher message.
When we encourage ourselves & others to focus SOLELY on the perceived source of the problem (community, family, or whichever), then we aren't helping ourselves or others as much as we intend.
Someone people remain stuck in the stage of resentment & determination to fix others.
Having experienced rejection myself, it's easy to understand why a person can remain stuck there, always seeing it as an external problem only.
Emotionally, some of my past experiences (not all, but some) still hurt & infuriate me, even though I intellectually realize their benefit & necessity, as described throughout this post.
So yeah, I struggle with this too.
Rejection is actually an opportunity for inner greatness & to fulfill a very special & essential mission.
And that's why it needs to feel so awful.
If it wasn't so awful or devastating, overcoming it would not mean much at all.
Avraham Avinu, Yaakov Avinu, Leah Imeinu, Yosef HaTzaddik, Moshe Rabbeinu, Miriam HaNeviah, David Hamelech, Chana HaNeviah, Yiftach, Shimshon, Ruth, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, Rebbe Akiva & his wife Rachel, and many more.