Footnoted song lyrics

Mountain/When My Father Came Back, annotated

by Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble

when my father came back from the war
I knew he would want to see me first1
so I ran out to greet him
but he fell to his knees in the dirt

he told me daughter
I have promised God to offer
the first creature that I saw

father the vow you have made
is one you cannot escape2
but first let me go with my sisters3
down to the shores of the lake4

I lived two months with them
my sisters in the forest
and then I returned back home

the night he took me to the mountain5
neither of us spoke
we reached the peak together
just as sunrise broke

I could have run from him
I almost thought he wished it
but I could not run from God

it was the last day of my life6
the sun had never shone so bright
my father held the knife
I kept my eyes open wide

then angels came to me
with faces of my sisters
and they filled my eyes with tears7

1 I imagined a close relationship between Yiftach and his daughter, based on the fact that they do not seem to have other family. This is in addition to the historical fact that returning warriors were greeted by their tribeswomen women dancing and playing timbrels.

2 This echoes the text’s understanding that Bat Yiftach herself insists on the sanctity of the vow and the impossibility of cancelling out a vow made in error.

3 “Sisters” here is meant figuratively, as her close friends.

4 As you may have noticed, there’s no lake in the text, and in fact she bewails her virginity on the mountains; but for some reason I wanted to imagine them camping out by a lake in the forest.

5 The text does not say Yiftach brought his daughter up a mountain; this is another detail I imagined since this story echoes the Akeidah, the sacrifice of Isaac, which occurs on a mountain.

6 I went with the more tragic interpretation: that Yiftach literally sacrifices his daughter, rather than the more forgiving interpretation that she is consecrated as a nun. I appreciate the ambiguity of the story, but also find the literal interpretation more convincing given that his vow uses the word “olah,” a burnt offering.

7 These angels are borrowed from a midrash about the sacrifice of Isaac, a compassionate addition to the story in which angels cry into his eyes, blinding him to his father holding the knife above him. (For the rabbis, this explains the vision problems that afflicted Isaac for the rest of his eyes.) I felt Yiftach’s daughter could use some of this ancient anesthetic as well, and that the most comforting faces for those angels would be her best friends. Here is the midrash:

Bereshit Rabbah 65:10

ד"א מראות מכח אותה ראיה שבשעה שעקד אברהם אבינו את בנו על גבי המזבח בכו מלאכי
השרת, ... ונשרו דמעות מעיניהם לתוך עיניו והיו
,’רשומות בתוך עיניו וכיון שהזקין כהו עיניו הה"ד ויהי כי זקן יצחק וגו

At the moment when our father Abraham bound his son Isaac on the altar, the ministering angels wept...Tears dropped from their eyes into his, and left their mark upon his eyes, and so when he became old his eyes dimmed.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Footnoted song lyrics." (Viewed on May 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/node/23116>.

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