Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Pinchas - 5775

My friends,

We are at the end of the fortieth year of wandering. All adults (20 years and over) who experienced the Exodus from Egypt have died and only three adults are left from that entire generation - Moses, and the two scouts who spoke well of the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb.

In this Parasha, Moses conducts another census of all the tribes. There are 601,730 men 20 years of age and over. Moses is told to assign the land to each tribe based on their number. The greater the population, the greater the land.

Having waited for so long to reach the Promised Land, we can imagine the frustration and hopelessness of this generation. They probably would be willing to accept anything - just get us there already. There were no complaints from any tribe as to the fairness of the distribution or territorial assignment as everything was to be done by lottery.

There was only one objection raised by five brave women from the tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph. The Torah gives us their names: Mahla, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They did not agree with the distribution system which would have given land only to the males in the family. Their father had died and had no sons - only the five daughters. They felt that it was not fair and discriminatory. They, therefore, appeared before Moses and the heads of the tribes and demanded that they too be given a piece of land in the Promised Land. You can call them the first 'feminist' movement in the Torah.

Moses was confused. This was against accepted practices of the tribal system as well as of the Torah he was teaching. What does Moses the great lawgiver do?

"Moses brought their case before the L-rd. And the L-rd 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 share to them.'" (Numbers 27:5-7)

Now that they were entering the Promised Land, these five brave women wanted to have the same opportunities as the men, In a new land, they felt, it would make sense to drop the old practices that had existed for centuries before them under Egyptian and tribal rules. They wanted equal opportunity. They would be the modern pioneers we are familiar with as the builders of modern Israel. And none other than G-d was their champion. "YES. THEY ARE JUST."

Sharei Chesed is proud to have an egalitarian approach in our services and synagogue life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram