The haftarah we read this past Shabbos, Parshas MiKeitz, is rarely read. The last was two years ago, but not for 20 years before that, and it won’t be read again for another 17 years. Nevertheless, it is one of the most well-known stories in Tanach, about the two women who came to Shlomo to decide who the mother of the live baby was. He famously decreed, “Bring a sword and split the baby in two!” causing the real mother to beg him to spare the life of the child. The other said, “Well enough, neither you nor I will have a son.” Disregarding the well-known aside regarding the two mothers-in-law, this was held up as an example of Shlomo’s great wisdom, which the whole nation marveled at.

A dear friend commented that he did not understand how this was such a “groise chochmah.” As he put it, many a difficult Tosafos he struggled with in high school seemed to contain far more wisdom! I answered him with an insight that I heard years ago from Rav Yissocher Frand, who commented on how one can appreciate the genius of a gadol like Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. As he put it, “After the shiur in which the Rav explained the p’shat in the sugya, one has the inescapable feeling that it is plain to see that – obviously – this is the true p’shat – it could not possibly be anything else. But you would have never thought of it yourself.”

But perhaps the story of the two women might have more significant and lasting implications. Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra certainly seemed to think so. He included a reference to it in his beautiful poem Tzam’ah Nafshi, enshrined in the z’miros Shabbos, a poem so great that Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l told me that Rav Eliyahu Mokotovsky (Ki-Tov) wondered how the neshamah of the Ibn Ezra could stay in his body while writing such elevated words! He wrote (translated to English): “See who is the true mistress, when the handmaid proclaims, ‘No, your son is dead while my son lives!’” I read a beautiful insight from Rav Ronen Lovitz, the Rav of Nir Etzion, in which he commented that Shlomo’s judicial tactic gave us a vital barometer to sense which side has the authentic truth in a dispute. If one side is prepared to destroy the subject of the dispute to prevent the other from having it, that side’s claim to the truth becomes very suspect. Instead, the side willing to forego any personal interest so that the subject may thrive, even without him or her, demonstrates that side’s virtue and authenticity.

It is such in this week’s encounter between Yehudah and Yosef, whereby Yehudah is willing to sacrifice his entire life and future so that Binyamin may live and return to his family. And it is so in the argument between the mistress and the handmaid, who, of course, are none other than Sarah and Hagar. Sarah’s son Yitzchak is the prime heir of the legacy of Avraham, but throughout history, he is challenged by Yishmael seeking to usurp his position and proclaim that he, and not Yitzchak, is the live son. Anyone even slightly familiar with the Quran knows that it contains a rewrite of history: It is Yishmael offered at the Akeidah, Yitzchak who is sent away, and so on. The Muslims claim that they have the true religion, that the Torah is a distortion, and that the “son of the handmaiden” is the true bearer of the truth. Ibn Ezra protests: The mistress is the true mother of the son, all the proclamations of the handmaid notwithstanding.

This quarrel is very much at the center of today’s dispute, a millennium later. The Arabs claim that they are the true heirs and owners of Palestine, from the river to the sea, leaving no room at all for the Jews. Here, the argument is not about the son as much as who the mother is – who are the legitimate sons of the Motherland of Eretz Yisrael?

Throughout the modern dispute, am Yisrael has repeatedly acted as a true son. We have been willing, again and again, to make very painful concessions to bring about peace and harmony in the land. We have been willing to cede major territories, provide humanitarian assistance, and grant many rights to the Arabs despite having received none of that when banished from all the Arab countries and despite the many horrible acts of violence that we have had to endure from them. From the original partition plan, through many attempts to make peace, through the accursed Oslo Accords and even the disengagement from Gaza/Gush Katif, Israel has made painful sacrifices. In return, it has received violence, mayhem, and destruction, encapsulating the motif of the false mother: “Neither you nor I will have a son.”

It goes even further. In a strange twist of fate, we are witness to the awful rise of anti-Semitism and hostility of the world, in which they accuse Israel of being the “mistress,” mistreating the “poor handmaid.” According to their narrative, Israel engages in imperialistic colonial abuse, exploiting its greater power over the weak, pitiable refugees who have no choice but to engage in terror in the “concentration camp” that Israel keeps them in.

The Tanach does not reveal which of the two women – the plaintiff or the defendant – was the true mother. Rav Lovitz suggests that perhaps this is to teach that the truth is not arrived at by observing who is the mistress and who is the handmaid or who is in a higher or lower social strata; the truth is seen in their words and actions. In the current milieu, the blame for the present misery of the Arabs is to be laid solely at their own doorstep, having rejected the hand that sought to help them and instead cruelly bitten it in a parade of horrors.

Shlomo merely called for a sword to be raised to solve that dispute. To prevail over an organization with two swords on its banner, we must resolutely stand for the truth with Iron Swords of our own. With the help of Hashem, may the evil ones be destroyed, and may we live in peace in our Motherland with those who will accept our outstretched hand of Truth.

Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer is a writer and licensed tour guide living in Israel. Before aliyah, he served as the rabbi of several congregations, including the Young Israel of Forest Hills. He would love to show you our homeland on your next visit; he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or (+972) 53-624-1802.

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