bentelan a cosa serve
Adapted from Rabbi Moshe Grylak’s “Parsha v’Likcha”
Translated and adapted by Braha Bender
Five sisters stood in the center of the camp, demanding their rights.
Their demand was a private demonstration against the fault finding and defeatism that nibbled away at the men’s hearts. And it was a demonstration that merited the Torah’s recognition and esteem.
“The daughters of Zelophehad, son of Hefer … son of Menasseh … son of Joseph drew near… and they stood before Moshe (Moses), before Elazar … and the entire assembly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, saying: ‘Our father died in the Wilderness… Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers‘” (Numbers 27:1-4).
The orphaned and unmarried women were apparently concerned about their property rights, wishing to ascertain that they would be taken care of in the new land. A reasonable concern, if somewhat self absorbed. What they were asking, after all, was that when the land would be divided, they would not be deprived of the family estate.
But how did this conversation make it in to the Almighty’s book? At the universally relevant scale of Torah content, passing individual property claims don’t seem to deserve significant mention. It even seems a bit petty for the Torah to have recorded the exchange for all of history to see.
The keys to the code are in the rabbis’ hands. What made this exchange relevant, explain our sages, was not their actual request, but the circumstances surrounding it. Timing, explain the rabbis, was key:
“Rabbi Natan says: The strength of women is preferred to that of men. …At which time did they [the daughters of Zelophehad] stand before Moshe? At the time that the people were saying, “Let us choose a leader and return to Egypt.” Moshe said to them, “Here Israel wants to return to Egypt, and you are requesting a portion in the Land of Israel?!”
They said, “We know that in the end all of the Jews will return to the Land.”
(Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas, 676)
Painting a picture of the situation of those days, the Torah records a low moment for Jewish nationalism. Israel was losing sight of their dreams and goals after nearly forty years of wandering in circles, encamped between the sand and the blazing sun. Were they really going towards the Promised Land? Would the Almighty ever lead them inside? Their despair about an unknown future led them to turn around and look back: Why don’t we return to Egypt? They missed civilization, and Egypt had been their home for over two hundred years. They longed for the security that comes with a stable place to live, a structure. A nine to five job.
They were at the brink of journey’s end. It was almost over, but the people did not know that. All they could see was how long they had been on the move. All they knew was that they were ready to give up.
But in the midst of the disillusionment and dismal atmosphere, five sisters came forward with a strange demand. They wanted a portion of the land. Israel, the land that seemed like a distant dream…a dream they believed in.
Waving the flag of hope like Miriam had done before them in Egypt, the daughters of Zelophehad approached Moshe, saying, “We know that we’re almost there. We want to settle our property rights – right now.”
The people turned their heads; ears perked up. The atmosphere lifted. A portion in the land. We’re almost there.
“Let’s return to Egypt” turned into “give us our possession of the land of Israel”. Their well-placed demand had claimed the daughters of Zelophehad a place in history. It wasn’t just a superficial exchange about property rights, it was a stance for the truth. The daughters of Zelophehad had become icons of hope for a better future, love for the Land of Israel, and trust in the Almighty and his Torah leaders to fulfill His word and lead us exactly where we need to go, even when we can’t see it yet.