The Jewish Outsider
Rabbi Moshe Abarbanel
We Jews understand discrimination. Sometimes we discriminate against our own. This came to mind when preparing for a speech for my son’s Bar Mitzvah. The first person I thought of was Yephtach. We know that his own family, the half brothers from his father threw him out. Why did they discriminate against him? We see that “Yephtach was a mighty man of valor (gibor) and he was the son of a woman- a “zona” (Judges 11:1). This gives us a springboard to understand the hatred. Our great sages comment on the word zona. Zona maybe interpreted in many different ways.
The first option by Targom Yonatan translates this as an innkeeper. Yephtach was different because his mother worked. She was independent, creating an economic distinction.
The Ralbag explains that she hailed from a different tribe. In those days, he explains, this was not the custom. Therefore the Torah called her “zona” for acting in a socially inappropriate manner. The Radak comments that she was a concubine. So they called her a zona. According to any definition, there is a social distinction between Yephtach and the others. Shoftim gives us another reason: greed. Yephtach’s brothers told him, “You shall not inherit our fathers house (1:2).” Finally, the Torah tells us that Yephtach “was a mighty man of valor (gibor).” He was physically different.
Any reason for discrimination is wrong. We see greatness in Yephtech: he did not fight with his family, but he left voluntarily: “Yephtech fled from his brothers and he dwelt in the land of Tob (Judges 11:3).” He lived as Torah Jew with fellow Israelites like himself amongst the non-Jews.
My son Pesach lives this life. Due to his special needs he attends a non Jewish school where he wears a kippa and tzizit. At home he becomes one of the only children in our community who does not attend a Jewish Day school. Like Yephtech, he is an outsider in both circumstances. Thank God, today, the Jewish Community created special schools but that does not mean it will meet the needs of all children. God blessed us with a synagogue that welcomes him with such love that he looks forward to going to pray and seeing the congregants. We also found the perfect religious camp for him this summer. We hope this will bridge the gap for him in our community.
May the Almighty give us strength to combat hatred and include all members of the family at the Shabbos table.