Rav Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, states similarly but goes so far as to apply this rule to the wicked people mentioned in the Torah as well. Even these were men and women of greatness, full of faith in G-d, who made enormous mistaken calculations in a sophisticated way. Rav Noson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter from Slabodka, applies this concept to Yishmael, Esav, Lavan, Pharoh, Bilaam, and others. These individuals had profound grasp of heavenly matters, but became spiritually tragic figures when their philosophical approaches ran off course. However, their sins should certainly not be interpreted as plain and simple transgressions that we experience today.
The Arizal taught this same approach, making the point that the Torah would never mention wicked people and their sins if there were not great depth involved from which we are to learn. The Torah does not just tell stories of what occurred long ago—there is always profundity beneath the surface that requires investigations and study.
Of course, this does not change the fact that these people were reshaim, and deserved the various punishments meted out to them. However, the fact that they achieved great levels forces us to look at their misgivings in a different light. As Rav Eliyahu Dessler writes, many of the sins mentioned in the Torah regarding earlier generations would be considered mitzvos if done in today’s times. Often, because of the great levels earlier generations attained, Hashem judged them more severely. [See Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s Alei Shur, part 1, p. 227, Rav Avraham Korman’s Mavo LeTorah SheBichsav VeSheBaal Peh, p. 168–169, in the names of the Alters from Kelm and Slabodka, Rav Dessler’s Michtav MiEliyahu, vol. 1, p. 161–166, and the Mei HaShiloach on Parshas Pinchas.]
From the above discussion, we can state clearly that Yiftach was a tzadik and a talmid chacham. There is no doubt about that. Yiftach’s struggles and failures must be comprehended on a profound level.
And these are some of the happenings in this week’s Haftorah.