223/929. It Could Be Worse…Shoftim 12.

When the going gets tough in our family, we sometimes like to play a dark little game called “it could be worse.” When we’re stuck in traffic, late for an important event, the baby is screaming, we imagine how…it could be worse. We could have a flat tire…in the rain…and be lost…with our phone batteries dead…As the scenarios we imagine become more and more awful and far-fetched, we laugh, and gain some healthy perspective on our predicament.

The book of Shoftim is a treasure trove of materials for a national game of “it could be worse.” We are going through a difficult period of attacks, insecurity, and fear, but…it could be worse. The Jewish people suffered far more severe oppression at the hands of the Amonnites and Philistines for a period of 18 years (!!) until Yiftach came along.

More precisely, one portion of the Jewish people suffered that oppression, while their fellow tribes went about their lives. So, while we might feel that Jewish solidarity is not where we would want it to be, that we are too complacent about the plight of our fellow Jews suffering from away from our own bubble…it could be worse. Perhaps we don’t do enough, but we still see ourselves as connected, and not as separate nations as Yiftach suggests (12:2).

Our national unity is also lacking, and we fight with each other far too much over inconsequential differences…but it could be worse.  The civil war in chapter 12 which takes the lives of 42,000 Jews isn’t even the first one we’ve encountered in the book of Shoftim, but it is particularly shocking in terms of its impact, and for the callousness with which brother selected brother for slaughter. The worst that I encounter as a reaction to my North American accent is laughter…it could definitely be worse.


A blog of short reflections on Tanach, following the 929 project’s daily study of a chapter a day, 5 days a week.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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