Bamidbar/Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
In this week’s Torah reading, an unusual case of inheritance arises. Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph, had five daughters but no sons. He has passed away and Moses is about to apportion the Promised Land to the tribes.
The culture of the day dictated that inheritance goes from father to son, not to daughter. So these women, concerned that their father’s inheritance would be transferred to relatives outside the immediate family who had sons, approached Moses to ask what the law is in this case. Moses was stumped; he didn’t know. So instead of giving them a flat ‘no’ or dismissing their request as inappropriate, Moses had the wisdom to turn to the Lord for direction.
It is important to recognize that in the Torah God had given to Moses there was no law that forbade the family inheritance being passed down to one’s daughter. By the absence of such a commandment, the cultural influence gave rise to the tradition that women received no inheritance. To their credit, these young women understood that and therefore challenged the prevailing custom. They did NOT ask that a law in God’s Torah be changed; there was no law for this case. Their appeal was a specific challenge to custom and tradition as it influenced the application of the instructions of God.
We must also make note that their appeal was not about feminism or gender but about righteous judgment. They reminded Moses that their father did not join the rebellion of Korah but died of ‘natural’ causes. Therefore, they reasoned, is it justice that his family line be wiped out because he had no sons? Also note that they did not agitate, they did not gather a crowd of ‘supporters’, they simply asked and then waited for Moses’ decision.
There are only two incidents in Torah where Moses was faced with making a decision about civil and family affairs. Both have to do with these five women.
Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just; you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s [portion of land] to them.’ Num. 27:5
The Lord further instructs Moses to make this a universal law for Israel for all time and delineates a line of inheritance for families ending with the words, ‘This shall be the law of procedure for all Israelites, in accordance with the Lord’s command to Moses.’ vs. 11b
We sometimes speak of people who ‘think outside the box’. I like to describe these women as those who ‘think outside the tent’! History has dozens of examples of individuals or small groups like these five sisters who change history, do exploits for the God of Israel and leave a permanent mark on mankind because they had the courage WITH humility to challenge unjust and/or immoral opinions and rulings. Think of Esther, for example. At hearing about the unjust decree of destruction against the Jewish population, she turned FIRST to pray and fasting. During that time of seeking God, she received her instructions, then carried them out to a successful resolution of the problem.
In Tune with Torah this week = the five daughters of Zelophehad teach us an important lesson. In the face of direct injustice or the absence of justice, the voice of courage clothed in humility has the power to change history, not just in its time, but for generations to come. What does this say to you today?