There are plenty of great comments on this Parshah. I am just going to direct you to one of them, from Rabbi Alex Israel. He teaches at Pardes Institute. There are many more if you’d like to read about Pinchas and the census.
For me, this Parshah is all about the women, and how they have changed the whole piece of the legal system with the backup of The Almighty himself. Talk about the ancient form of feminism! This is the original one, if you ask me – the movement for equal rights for all.
א וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד, בֶּן-חֵפֶר בֶּן-גִּלְעָד בֶּן-מָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹת, מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן-יוֹסֵף; וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֹתָיו–מַחְלָה נֹעָה, וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה.
|1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.|
|2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying:|
|3 ‘Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons.|
|4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.’|
ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.
|6 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:|
|7 ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.|
|8 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.|
|9 And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.|
|10 And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren.|
|11 And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it. And it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.’|
So, just to reiterate this amazing chapter:
Just prior to this incident a full census of Israelites was taken for the purpose of distributing the inheritance and war preparedness. This involved men only (naturally?)
- This is the first case in the Bible when women raise their voices on a legal matter.
- The final outcome of the case they are seeking is not for their personal gain, but the share of their family – “father’s name”.
- A woman is not precluded from presenting her case to the highest judge and winning if her intentions are clear. The Law is then based on this precedence
Sifrei Bamidbar 133:4
Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. (Numbers 27:1)
Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad … (Numbers 36:11)
For a grand occasion in front of כָל-הָעֵדָה – the whole community
Every daughter’s name is mentioned. The order is reversed in the second mentioning. It says that this is to show that each one of them was a righteous woman in her own right, and none was greater than the other.
As usual in the Torah, everyone in the lineage is enumerated – this is to show that the family is righteous from the origin – “daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph
Moses and Gd, Himself listened to the women’s argument, conceded that they had a fair point, and changed the rules.
Today, when we see women on the one side protesting half naked, and on the other side being totally erased from the public sphere, let’s try to find a middle ground, a place where we bring our thoughts and grievances forward not out of a desire to be seen and stand on someone else’s necks, but out of respect to our traditions and learning our heritage, out of reverence to Gd, and not people in power anywhere.
May we all merit a Shabbat Shalom!