Five daughters (Parashat Pinchas)

Shul is a wonderful thing. When you’re done fighting the ‘why am I supposed to be here’ and the ‘but I don’t believe in all this stuff…’, you realize that on many days, it’s not about any of this; it’s just a place to take a break and sit quietly for a few moments soaked in the hum around, letting things happen.

So this Shabbat, once again, I read about the daughters of Tzlofchad. We know the story: five, we assume young women, daughters of a man from the tribe of Menashe, pose a question to Moses: Their father died during the journey from Egypt and left no sons. They are about to enter the Land, where each male head of family will receive an inheritance, but they will not inherit, and their father’s name will be lost.

Moses doesn’t answer but rather, approaches God to get a clarification, and God agrees with the girls: ken bnot tzlofchad dovrot, naton titen lahem achuzat nachala… and sets a specific law going forward: if there is no son, then the daughters will inherit the father. If there are no daughters, then the land goes to the man’s brothers, uncles, or the nearest keen. (Numbers 27:1-11).

I read it again, and again, and then noticed an obvious detail I didn’t pay much attention to before. The daughter “stood before Moses, and before El’azar the priest (Aaron’s son) and before the leaders and the whole congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting”, and it puzzled me, why did they go to Moses? I mean, they were orphans, which means their status wasn’t high, as there was no one to stand up for them, and they dependent on the community for food, and possibly shelter. They were women, asking for rights women until then never had. Ok, so they had an idea about what’s right. They should have gone to an uncle, or their grandfather – the lineage is all spelled out; and if one of them can’t help – maybe, maybe dare and go to the tribe’s leader.

But to Moses?! Even the Hebrew verb “vatikravna” – and they approached. I can see them coming, with their long dresses, heads wrapped in scarves, slowly they walk, hesitating, maybe giggling with each other: to ask or not ask? you ask! no, you ask! or maybe one of them, ignoring it all, marching straight forward to the tent of meeting, demanding an answer as the other huddle around.

I have to think that they didn’t wake up one morning and walked up to the Tent of Meeting, the place of the korbanot, the shchina, where God speaks to Moses, just because. I imagine that they listened to the speeches about the upcoming entry to the land and the division of the inheritance, and hoped that someone will notice them and their unique situation. But no one did. Maybe they raised the issue, whispering to each other at night, confiding in a relative – who shrugged, who said, ‘so sorry, that’s the way it is’, and didn’t take their case further.

And maybe they didn’t give up and brewed on it a little longer. And they hoped the tribe’s leaders will hear them. After all, Moses set up a hierarchical system, per Jethro’s advice, exactly for cases like this! Everyone should have had someone to talk to about legal matters, about disputes, about law; and if that person didn’t know the answer, he should have consulted his mentor, until finally, we would have heard about this because Joshua – or an elder – brought it before Moses. How did the girls get in the middle of this? That must have been so against procedures and protocol!!

But Moses turns around and – with the same verb used just a few verses earlier for the daughters, vayakrev – brings their case in front of God. He realizes they have a point, and without changing it or its energy – take up the case to Someone who can decide what needs to be done about it.

To the people he brings God’s words, mitzvoth, chukim, mishpatim; to God – he brings the people’s complaints, ideas, hopes and wishes. Even more than the brave daughters, this story highlights Moses, and this week I especially miss him.

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