Parshat Pinchas(Numbers 25:10 – 30:1)

Rabbi David Stav 

Looking at our Hebrew calendars, we notice that we have now entered “The Three Weeks”, which began on the seventeenth of the month of Tammuz, the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and will end on the ninth of the month of Av – Tisha b’Av, the day the Holy Temple was destroyed.

Although there need not be any formal link between the subjects covered in the Torah portions that occur during this time period, it is of interest that this portion, Pinchas, is always read during “The Three Weeks”, or very close to them. On the face of it, the topics discussed in Parshat Pinchas have nothing to do with mourning and destruction, but if we take a closer look at these verses, we’ll discover another layer of meaning that might explain the connection to this time of the year.

One of the many subjects discussed in this portion, which is covered in great detail, is how the land was to be apportioned between the various tribes: How would allotments be measured? Would they be determined based on a lottery, on the size of the tribe, or on something else?

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we read about five sisters who stand together before Moshe and Elazar the Priest. They appeal to the highest authority available, with the following claim: “Our father [Zelafhad] died in the desert… Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers” [Num. 27:3-4].

The daughters of Zelafhad want to receive a portion of the land and an inheritance, and they do not want their father’s name to be tarnished and denied an inheritance in the Land of Israel. Until that time, the customary inheritance laws at the time were that the deceased’s brothers – the daughters’ uncles – were to inherit from their brother, leaving the daughters with no inheritance at all. Their father’s name would have been effectively erased from the map of inheritances.

Moshe, unaware of the answer to this query, refers the question to Hashem, Who responds that the daughters are correct in their assertion, and that they should be given their father’s family inheritance [ibid., v.7].

Our rabbis were awestruck by this story:: “Their claim is just. Fortunate is the person with whose word the Holy One, blessed is He, concurs” [Midrash, Sifre].

Indeed, it is rather impressive. Five women appeal to Moshe, and in deference to their request, the Torah reveals this special law to us.

However, we must also ask why Hashem hadn’t chosen to instruct Moshe to implement this law before these women approached him. After all, Moshe was entirely capable of figuring out all of the scenarios that might eventually surface, and Hashem clearly knew that a solution must be found for families with no sons.

Why, then, did we need to wait for Zelafhad’s daughters to come along and raise the issue for a Divine answer to be provided for such a simple law? Couldn’t Moshe have been taught the rules beforehand?

The answer to these questions may be tied to the nature of the Jewish nation’s bond with the Land of Israel. It is clear that there are all kinds of laws and mitzvot to which we must adhere, regardless of how spiritually connected we are to them. Take the prohibition of stealing or murder, for example. A person can either support this idea or find it reprehensible, but that has no bearing on that person’s obligation to follow the law. In this case, fully abiding by the law is key to sustaining human civilization and maintaining basic order. This is why these are absolute prohibitions, and no one cares whether people like the idea.

There are also, however, ideas and mitzvot that are anything but formalistic, like the commandment to honor our parents. Our rabbis tell us that some might give their parents vast quantities of food and money, yet remain grossly negligent in honoring them, while others might force their parents to engage in heavy labor, such as grinding wheat in a millstone, but still be considered respectful. In this case, it all depends on what’s in the child’s heart and in the respect the child truly feels, in the way the child speaks to his or her parents, and so on – and not on the formal act of providing food, or the like.

The Land of Israel belongs to the second group of mitzvot. One verse in Tehillim (Psalms) relates to the love of the Land of Israel, stating: “For Your servants desired its stones and favored its dust” [102:15]. The great Spanish poet, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, remarks that Israel’s salvation is, to a great extent, dependent on us yearning for it immensely.

Similarly, our lives in the Land of Israel are greatly dependent on our will to connect and bond with it. The sin of the spies was that they had rejected the desirable land, and the remedy for this inequity was the outpouring of love for the land. This may well be the reason Hashem determined that the law concerning the inheritance of Zelafhad’s daughters must be revealed at their initiative, and not as an instruction from above. It is as if Hashem was saying to them that their deep desire for an inheritance in the land of their forefathers is the key to winning that inheritance.

These days, while Jewish tradition dwells on the destruction of the people and the Holy Temple – events that occurred long ago – we ought to read in our Torah portion about lessons that teaches us how we are meant to return to the land – with love, devotion, and longing. Long ago, people needed a great deal of devotion to even sense the virtues of the land, but today, all we need to do is look around us, and we understand that the land is indeed very goodly – we just need to express our love through our actions.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]
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