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The Daughters of Tzelophchad

The Daughters of Tzelophchad

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© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

In one of the sedras of this month, in the sedra Pinchas, we read of an unusual event in which the principal role is played by five sisters. They were the daughters of Tzelophchad, who was the fourth generation descending from Manasseh, Joseph’s elder son.

Tzelophchad had died in the wilderness, on the way from Egypt, and left no sons, but only five daughters. They must have been very worthy indeed, since they are all mentioned by name: Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milkah and Tirtzah. Their names are repeated in other places in the Torah, but in a different order, from which our sages learn that they were all equally wise and equally worthy.

The event which we mentioned above took place in the fortieth year since the departure from Egypt, the last year of wandering in the desert, before entering the Promised Land. Aaron was no longer among the living, and his place was taken by his son Elazar, who was now the high priest.

At G‑d’s command, Moses had declared the manner in which the Promised Land would be divided among the tribes of Israel, and who was entitled to receive a share in the land. The land was to be divided by a divine lot among the six hundred thousand male adults who were liberated from Egypt, or rather their heirs, since with few exceptions only their children entered the Promised Land. The men of the yribe of Levi, who were the priests (kohanim) and Levites, the spiritual leaders and teachers of the people, were not to receive plots of land, since they were to devote their time to their holy duties; they received only special cities and surrounding fields to dwell in.

No doubt Moses would have received, in due course, the whole law of inheritance, in all details, and the daughters of Tzelophchad would have no reason to make an appearance, and perhaps would not even have been mentioned. But it so happened that they were very worthy and fine Jewish daughters, wise, learned and modest, and G‑d wanted them to be mentioned and to be instrumental in the teaching of the important inheritance law. Thus our sages say that “G‑d brings about a good thing through the agency of a good person.” And so it happened that the daughters of Tzelophchad not only received special mention in the Torah, but in addition a whole portion of the Torah was credited to their good merits.

What happened was this: Tzelophchad had died without sons to inherit his share in the Holy Land. Only the five daughters survived him. So, they wanted to know what would happen to their father’s share in the land. Would they, his daughters, not receive it, just because they happened to be girls and not boys?

Now, Tzelophchad was no ordinary man. Our sages tell us that he was a saintly and G‑d fearing man. To make the people fear and love G‑d was Tzeloplichad’s greatest desire in life.

The daughters of Tzelophchad were careful to mention that their father was a worthy man: that he took no part in the rebellion of Korach, nor had he been among those who rebelled against G‑d, refusing to go on to the Promised Land. “He had died by his own sin,” the daughters said, and therefore he had not forfeited his rightful share in the Holy Land.

First the five sisters took their case to the lower courts. When the lower courts did not know how to decide the case, they sent the five sisters to the next court, higher in order, and this in turn referred them to a still higher court, and so on, until the five sisters appeared before all the authorities, including the princes of the tribes, and Elazar the high priest, who finally sent them to Moses himself. As you know, Moses was a very modest and humble man, so he thought: “A11 the courts and authorities referred the case to a higher authority. I, too, have a higher authority: G‑d.” So Moses said to them, “Wait until I hear what G‑d will command about you.”

According to the opinion of another sage, however, Moses did not in fact know how to decide this case, and this was by way of punishment. You will remember that when Moses set up lower and higher courts, he made it known that easy cases should be taken to the lower courts, and the hard cases should be brought to him for decision. Although Moses surely did not mean to boast that he was cleverer than all, his words might have made that impression, and so great a man as Moses should be very careful what words to use. So now, when a difficult case was finally brought to him, he too did not know, and had to ask G‑d for a decision. Be it as it may, it certainly is to the credit of Moses that he was not ashamed to admit that he did not know, and that he never decided a case on his own judgment, but was always guided by G‑d.

The five daughters of Tzelophchad won a favorable decision. G‑d declared it to be the law that when a man dies leaving no son, the property is to be inherited by his daughter. The daughters of Tzelophchad were therefore entitled to their father’s share in the land. And a good share it was. It was three shares, in fact: his own; a share in his father’s, who was also among those departing from Egypt; and an extra share, because Tzelophchad was a firstborn.

But what would happen if a girl who has inherited a field from her father would marry a Jew belonging to any of the other tribes, except her father’s? It would mean that the field would now become part of the land belonging to another tribe, for her land would go over to her husband. Therefore, in such a case, the girl was expected to marry a man of her own tribe, so that no tribe would lose a slice of its land, and all the tribes would keep their lands.

The daughters of Tzelophchad were free to marry any Jew they wished, and there were many who would have considered themselves very fortunate to have one of the five sisters for a wife. They were advised, however, to marry men of their own tribe of Manasseh. They married worthy relatives, and were blessed with children, and lived happily, and were a credit to their husbands and ancestors, and to the whole tribe of Manasseh, the son of Joseph.

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Randi and Jonathan Home June 9, 2017

Tribe of zelphehad We've been looking and looking for the tribe from which the wood gatherer came and we finally found it. wow! He inherited three portions of the land! Reply

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