Parashat Pinchas – Erev Shabbat 7 July 2023 (5783)
Week of 2-8 July 2023
Torah portion : Numbers 25 :10 -30:1 Haftarah: 1 Jer. 1 :1-2:3
Theme: Time to question and time to obey.
In the Torah portion, I find most interesting the story of the claim of the daughters of Zelophedad for their father’s portion of land. It tells us of the challenges women have to face and the value of doing the unprecedented for one’s rights. Most of all, it tells us that our God is a God of Justice and that nothing is impossible with God.
The Israelites’ forty-year journey in the wilderness is coming to an end and as part of their preparation to enter the Promised Land, a second census was made. God’s decree states that the apportioning of the land will be according to the “number of names” of members of the second generation counted in the census (Num. 26:52-56).
Zelophehad of the tribe of Mannaseh has no son and his daughters fear they could not inherit their father’s land (their names are not in the census which only records the males) and the land will be lost to their clan. In an unprecedented move, Zelophedad’s five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah publicly challenge the fairness of the inheritance law.
Before Moses, Eleazar the priest and the entire community in the entrance of the Tent of Appointed Meeting, they said: “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company that banded together against God. He was not among Korah’s allies, but he died because of his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father disappear from the midst of his family, just because he did not have a son? Please give us a possession too.”
Moses, not knowing how to answer the claim takes their case before God who in reply unequivocally supported the sisters’ demand. God said: “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.”
The daughters’ claim also leads to a new law granting daughters the status of heirs in the absence of sons (27:6-8), prompting the comment that the daughters’ proposal becomes God’s Torah.
Their achievement, considered to be a landmark in women’s rights, is a compelling lesson to make paradigm shifts, to not just sit and wait or lament but to take hold of one’s own life and fight for what one believes is right.
Later in the Book of Numbers, however, we learn that in a sense what the daughters got was a complicated victory. Because of the later proposal of some members of their clan, they had to contend with endogamy, limiting them to marry only into the tribe of their father (36:6).
If you have this kind of limited victory, what are you going to do? We learn that Zelophehad’s daughters chose to do just as God commanded. They all married on their father’s side, within the families of Manasseh son of Joseph (36:11-12).
From the story of Zelophehad’s daughters, we learn that there is a time to question and time to obey. In all though, the big lesson is that it is good to obey God but we can always ask God for what we want, even if it is for a new impossible dream.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Have you ever had an experience challenging current practice to create a change in community or church life? 2) Do you know of anyone you consider to be contemporary “daughters of Zelophehad”? Why?
Bibliography: Women of Reform Judaism https://wrj.org/learning/torahstudy/torahcommentary/parashatpinchas;
JewishWomen’sArchiveshttps://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/daughters-of-zelophehad; Levine, The Anchor Bible: Numbers 21-36 (New York, 2000)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat kol Alumna, July 2014