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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 21
An Uneasy Peace

Chapter 21 discusses the aftermath of the civil war (discussed in previous chapters). Before the war, the tribes of Israel made an oath not to allow their children to marry into the tribe of Binyamin. However, they now lamented that an entire tribe was missing from the nation. There was no one to marry the 600 surviving male members of the tribe of Binyamin.


The people seemed to be regretting their actions, but an oath taken in such a public manner could not be annulled. It is also possible that they were mourning their 40,000 casualties of war, or perhaps they realised they should never have waged the war in the first place. They sacrificed offerings to God in Beit-El, praying and repenting.


The people discovered that there was one group from Javesh-Gilad who did not answer the summons to gather against Binyamin. This meant that they had flouted the national command and deserved to be put to death. Some even attributed the many casualties to this betrayal. However, this meant that they were not included in the oath to not give their daughters in marriage to Binyamin. Thus they saw a solution to the problem of how to keep the tribe of Binyamin alive. The children of Israel sent 12,000 soldiers to kill the people of Javesh-Gilad, apart from 400 maidens who could be given in marriage to the surviving members of Binyamin.


Peace was made between Binyamin and the rest of the tribes. However, there were still 200 men without wives. The Elders decided that at the festivals, these remaining men could take wives from the unmarried girls dancing. The girls would need to give their consent, but as the parents were not required to give consent, it did not violate the oath. In this way, the children of Israel were reassured that the tribe of Binyamin could be renewed. On 15th Av the next generation of Binyamin could marry into the rest of the tribes, as the oath only applied to that one generation. This was a time of great rejoicing as it symbolised a renewed unity within the Jewish people.


The chapter ends with everyone returning to their own family, inheritance and tribe. This was a mistake: when everyone had gathered there was an opportunity to appoint a leader or put a system in place to prevent this happening again. However, nothing changed, and everyone went back to how they were before. The lack of unity within the Jewish people was still apparent.


The final verse of the book of Shofetim is: “in those days there was no king in Israel; a man would do whatever seemed proper in his eyes” (21:25). Despite all that had happened, no move was made to create central leadership and that lack caused chaos and anarchy to reign continually. While peace had been re-established, the tragic events of this period cannot be ignored. This will be the driving force behind the people’s request for a king in the next book, Sefer Shmuel.

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