Our portion this week is a double Parsh and the final ones of the book of B’midbar (Numbers).
- Numbers 30-36
- Jeremiah 1:1-2:28
- Acts 9:1-22; James 4:1-12
It is significant that for the second time the Daughters of Zelophehad make an appearance in the book. (The first time was in Numbers 27.) I do not believe that the importance of these women, or the decision surrounding their question of inheritance can be underestimated. It is significant for a number of reasons.
First, because it was unheard of for women to be allowed to inherit in any nation of the day. It was a clear way that Adonai chose to set the Israelites apart, in that, while men’s and women’s roles and responsibilities were different, they were equals. Torah is unusual in that it provides for the protection and care for women who become disenfranchised due to the loss of a husband, father, or brother who would care for them.
Second, because of the courage of these five women. It must have been no easy matter for them to come before Moshe with their desire to inherit their father’s land. Consider that before getting to Moshe they would have had to go before the leaders of the tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands first (Exodus 18:17-27). These women were strong in character, sure of the righteousness of their request, and the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman. Their character should be shining examples for our daughters (and sons) of who a woman is to be. Consider that in closing the book, Moshe ends with their story ending the account of the 40 years in the wilderness. Almost as if to say, “Be like these, who sought the precious gifts and blessings of Adonai.”
The third reason is because of a new wrinkle. The concern brought before Moshe by the male leaders of the tribe is not that they would inherit, but that the decision made it possible for their inheritance to move from their own tribe (Manasseh) to another, if they married outside of their tribe. This was foremost on their mind as Moshe had begun to give the laws regarding the inheritance they were but months away from receiving in Canaan. Moshe’s response shows great wisdom.
Then Moshe commanded the sons of Israel according to the word of Yahweh, saying, “The tribe of the sons of Yoseph are right in their statements. This is what Yahweh has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they wish; only they must marry within the family of the tribe of their father.’ Thus no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for the sons of Israel shall each hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.”Numbers 36:5-7 NASB
The Torah of our faith is about freedom (Isaiah 61:1, Galatians 5:1). But it is not a freedom outside the bounds of responsibility. Society today would balk a such a ruling. “They should marry whomever they want, regardless of tribe!” Yet freedom in Torah is bound by responsibility. Israel, and these five women, understood this. What good was freedom if it meant that your family would suffer the loss of land, and the wealth that went with it, and would be forever barred from getting it back?
There is much for us to learn from Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. But in this closing chapter of Numbers the message is clear. Freedom must be bound to the responsibility we have to each other in the family of Elohim.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.Romans 12:10-13 NASB