Corona days 2020: an article somewhere states that for some, shul is like a coffee shop, and should have that high of a priority when considering what should be or stay open nowadays. That high? What does that say about us? Lots of time to think during these days, and wonder.
This Shabbat we read about the daughters of Tzlofchad. I’m guessing we know the story: five 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 of land. If things go as planned now, they will not inherit, and their father’s name will be lost; shouldn’t they get land too?
Moses doesn’t know the answer and approaches God for a clarification; 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).
We’re told 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 I wonder: why did they actually go to Moses? They were orphans, which means their status wasn’t high. There was no one to stand up for them, and they depended on the community for sustenance and possibly shelter. They were women, asking for rights women until then never had. Maybe they had an idea about what’s right, and what should be, but then, 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. Are they nearing him slowly, hesitatingly, maybe giggling with each other: should we ask or not ask? you ask! no, you ask! Or was it obvious who will speak? Do they march straight forward to the tent of meeting, demanding an answer, huddling around?
I imagine 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. 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. Maybe they raised the issue, whispering to each other at night, confiding in a relative – who shrugged, who said, at best, ‘so sorry’, and ‘you know that’s the way it is’.
But then, they thought about it a little longer. And still, it didn’t seem right. 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 the 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 someone brought it before Moses. How did the girls get right “in front of Moses”? That must have been so against procedures and protocol!!
Moses is definitely a hero here, so calmly, knowing his limits, not afraid to say I don’t know and ask, using the same verb just a few verses earlier the daughters used, vayakrev – to bring their case in front of God. I don’t want to lose sight of this.
And yet, the daughters, again. In their quiet, insistent way, in spite of it all, modeling for us, how to stay the course, even when it seems impossible; to hold on to their dream and go about it step by step. To not give up, so many places along the way.
On top of Sunday eve class (in Hebrew) and Thursday eve (English), here’s a series through Beth Jacob, Oakland for the “Three Weeks”:
Talmudic Tales of Destruction: A Three-Part Series with Community Scholar Michal Kohane.
Sundays at 8:00 PM (CA time) – @ Zoom https://zoom.us/j/4672710965
- July 12th: So The Temple is Gone, Who Cares? Introduction to the Three Weeks
- July 19th: The Romans and the Rabbis: “This Kingdom was Decreed by Heaven”
- July 26th: Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yochanan: What Comes After Destruction?