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In this week’s Torah portion, the daughters of Zelophehad (בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד‎‎) were five sisters: Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, mentioned in Bamidbar / Numbers 27. They lived at the end of Israel’s journey from Egypt as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, and who raised before Moshe and the community the case of a woman’s right and obligation to inherit property in the absence of a male heir in the family. In Bamidbar / Numbers 26 we are given the description of the census taken of all males over the age of 20. As part of the list of the various clans, we read that “Zelophehad … had no sons, only daughters” (26:33). The daughters of Zelophehad made the following claim about their father who had died and not had any sons. The Torah states, 27:2 They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, 27:3 ‘Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. 27:4 ‘Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ (NASB) The Torah, the Talmud, and the Zohar, refer to Zelophehad as having “died in his own sin.” This is important because it demonstrates that he was not a part of the rebellion of the leaders who died in Parashat Korach. Having died in a state of rebellion would have disqualified him in receiving the inheritance. The Talmud and the Zohar equate him with the man executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath,(Talmud Bavli Shabbat 96b, Zohar 3:205b) but Sifri Zuta says that it cannot be known if he was this man or not. (Sifri Zuta on Bamidbar / Numbers 15:32) The rabbis in the Talmud, Rabbi Joshua interpreted that they petitioned first the assembly, then the chieftains, then Eleazar, and finally Moshe, but Abba Chanan said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer that Zelophehad’s daughters stood before all of them as they were sitting together. (Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 119b) What the daughters of Zelophehad did was a landmark in women’s rights regarding the inheritance of land as compared to the surrounding cultures in that day. Human rights was a precious commodity, and in those days was very limited. The Torah in this week’s reading, and elsewhere granted a very high level of human rights towards men, women, and even slaves. The story of these five women offers a compelling lesson for all those who believe that their destiny is fixed or that divine justice has abandoned them. This week’s Torah portion encourages us to think differently about our life situations, and provides a message of hope for all who are faced with obstacles. The most important message being taught by Zelophehad’s daughters was in demonstrating their resolve to take hold of a situation, to seek the mercy of God, and to continue in righteousness and holiness while waiting for the will of God for their lives. These women stood for righteousness and God himself approved them to have the right to inherit what was truly theirs. This speaks of the importance of our standing for righteousness sake…

 

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