By Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Reconstructionist Jewish Communities
This week's parasha is Pinhas. Towards the beginning of the parasha we read the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. After Moses instructs the people on the division of the Promised Land once they enter it he also informs them that the land will pass from father to son so that it will remain within the tribes. Upon hearing this the five daughters of Zelophehad confront Moses with the fact that their father died in the desert leaving behind only daughters. Given the new laws their land would be lost from their family. They believe that they deserve to inherit the land by stating "Let not our father's name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father's kin!" (Numbers 27:3-4). Moses brings their case before God who declares that their claim is just and that they should be allowed to inherit their father's share of the land. The law from that time on is that if a man dies without sons the land shall pass to his daughters.
Towards the end of Numbers/Bemidbar the tribe of Menasseh, to which Zelophehad and his daughters belong, complain that if the daughters marry outside the tribe the land will be lost from the tribal inheritance. Therefore the law is amended by Divine decree to include the provision that daughters who inherit must marry within their own tribe. Both decrees concerning daughters and inheritance insure that the land remains not only within the family, but within the tribe. Though at first it might seem that women's rights and equality are the main concern of the authors (and many have tried to make that point) the reality is that familial and tribal integrity are the overriding principles.
In discussing the daughters of Zelophehad the rabbis portray them (and the other women of their generation) in an almost saintly light. "For forty years in the wilderness, the men tore down fences and the women repaired them (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 21:10). Furthermore, tradition teaches that the women did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf (for which they were rewarded with the monthly holiday of Rosh Hodesh -- the New Moon) and when the men lost all hope upon hearing of the negative report of the spies who scouted the land the daughters of Zelophehad came forward to claim their share of it. They had faith that they would indeed conquer the land so that they would be able to have a share of it.
Follow our page.