The Strength of Zelophehad’s Daughters

         In Parshat Pinchas, we learn about the strength of women, specifically the five daughters of Zelophehad. We learned in Parshat Shelach Lecha that none of the men would survive entry into the Land of Israel except for Caleb son of Jephuneh and Joshua son of Nun because of the spies’ bad report showing their lack of faith in God. In Deuteronomy we learn that all of the men perished except for Moses, Caleb and Joshua. Rashi has an interesting comment there. He writes, “All the men but not all the women. The men said זכרנו את הדגה, ‘remember the fish we ate for free in Egypt,’[1] whereas the women said תנה לנו אחוזה, ‘give us an inheritance in the Land of Israel.’” [2]

         We often look at the fact that Zelophehad’s daughters wanted to inherit yet we overlook the importance of this inheritance being in the Land of Israel. In spite of the lack of water and meat, the rebellion of Korach, the battles with Sihon and Og, these women wanted to be in the Land of Israel. They were not part of the caravan that formed to go back to Egypt, nor were they part of the cultic worship of Baal Peor. Their desire to have a foothold in the Land was paramount.

         In life we have to look at our personal mission and keep our eye on the prize-our focus on our mission. It is far too easy to divert our eyes, to be taken in by all of the distractions and to be all over the place. The goal is to know what we are looking for, both individually and as a congregation and to not stop trying when the going gets tough. Rather than diverting our eyes or giving up at the first sign of difficulty, we need to be like the daughters of Zelophehad-knowing what we want and trying to get it, working strategically, with both patience and perseverance.

         There’s another equally compelling part of the Zelophehad narrative. After hearing the daughters’ request, Moses takes it to God, one of only a handful of times when he does so. God says כן בנות צלפחד דברות, “Yes, the plea of the daughters of Zelophehad is just.”[3] By taking the case to the Higher Power, Moses admits that he does not have all the answers. Equally important to being focused on one’s mission is not becoming an ideologue-when one recognizes that s/he doesn’t have the answer, the goal is not to make something up but having the courage to say, “I don’t know.” As such one’s mission can change with new information or new situations-as long as it does not change every time something (or someone) gets into one’s ear. Finding the balance is challenging; recognizing that there is a balance is crucial.

         As we continue in the three weeks of mourning, a time of intense soul searching, let us be mindful of reflecting on who we are and what we value most. May we have the strength to stay the course when that is required, while concurrently having the humility to admit that we don’t know everything, as well as the wisdom to see when someone else is right and we are wrong.

[1] Numbers 11:5

[2] Numbers 27:4

[3] Numbers 27:5


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