Parshat Pinchas- Rav Susman
In honor of the birth of our grandson, Yotam Eliya Susman, son of Eitan and Michal Susman. May his parents be zoche l’gadlo l”Torah l’chuppah u’lmaasim tovim
One can only begin to imagine the force of character and sense of purpose that must have characterized B’not Zlafchad, the daughters of Zlafchad, when they chose to stake a claim to the land that was to be the portion of their father in Eretz Yisrael. This land, which unquestionably would have remained in the hands of their branch of the family had their father sired sons, was now in danger of being apportioned to other branches of the family. What courage must it have taken to directly confront Moshe and the rest of the leadership of the nation to demand what they thought was theirs. The step that they took was at once audacious and essential. In fact, Ralbag understands the very act of seeking redress as being one of the major purposes (toelet) of the Torah sharing this story with us. Says Ralbag: (Hatoelet Hashishi, p.360 in the Yeshivat Birkat Moshe edition) “(this comes) to teach us that it is inappropriate for an individual to allow bashfulness to prevent him from seeking legal redress from the leaders, but rather he should actively seek relief.” Nonetheless, it hardly could have been easy for this courageous group of young women to step forward.
In a few places the Midrash shares with us its take on what made Bnot Zlafchad “tick”. Firstly, there was a refusal to accept the idea that as women they had no rights to defend. Interestingly, the Midrash admits that this conviction was not self evident. Says the Sifrei (133:1) “When Bnot Zlafchad heard that the land was going to be divided according to Tribes and not to women they consulted with one another. They reasoned that Divine Mercy is different than the mercy of men. Men naturally favor males over females, but Hashem has (equal) mercy on all.” Moreover, The Sifrei continues to describe their personal characteristics, telling us that they were righteous as well. The Gemara in Baba Batra (119b) completes the picture by noting that based on their arguments to Moshe they were both wise (Chachmaniot) and capable of understanding and deriving lessons from the Torah (Darshaniot). The Midrash (which Rashi also quotes) suggests that Hashem himself recognizes the unique qualities of Zlafchad’s daughters. “And Hashem said to Moshe, truly (kein) have the daughters of Zlafchad spoken.” (27:6-7) Rashi, quoting the Midrash, states that Hashem noted that the demand of Zlafchad’s daughters parallels how the Halacha is written before Him. They saw things that Moshe did not see! And what is the Midrash’s conclusion? “Praiseworthy are those that Hashem confirms their statements!” Clearly, Bnot Zlafchad are an impressive group!
But what was the motivation behind their request? With the bona fides established by the Midrash and the Gemara, it is apparent that they weren’t “in it for the money”. Their concerns run far deeper than the monetary loss they stood to incur if the land goes elsewhere. So what drove them? At first glance it appears there is no question whatsoever. The passuk itself (4) seems to answer the question unequivocally: “Why should our father’s name be erased (yigara) from the family (just) because he has no sons?”
In his essay on the Parsha (Iyunim B’Parshot HaShavua, first series) Rav Elchanan Samet develops this idea. (The overarching theme of his essay, whether Bnot Zlafchad were motivated by feminist concerns, is not relevant to our discussion.) Rav Samet suggests that one of the driving forces in an individual’s life is his legacy. We see this in our society, where people are motivated to be remembered by their actions and by what they leave behind, be it family, accomplishments or bequests. Very often surviving members of a family seek to perpetuate the memory of a loved one by naming things after the departed. In Jewish society in the time of the Tanach, this drive to leave something enduring behind was no less urgent, though it took two major forms. One was leaving sons behind to continue the family. This need is the basis of the institution of Yibum which we are familiar with from many different contexts. The second is the concept of the family “nachala”, or domain, which is passed down from generation to generation. The centrality of this aspect is demonstrated by the idea of land returning to its original owners during the Jubilee (Yovel) year. While we might struggle with the idea that the sale of land is not final, in the society of Tanach nothing could be worse than the idea of a family being forced to sell its nachala. Fortunately, the Torah provided partial redress in the form of the return of land during the Yovel year. Rav Samet explains that nothing is a more lasting testament to an individual then leaving his family firmly tied to the family nachala, knowing that his sons and grandsons will strive to do the same.
Bnot Zlafchad came to the leadership of Am Yisrael with a simple claim. While it is undoubtedly true that they can marry others and have their children carry on the name of their husbands’ families, where does that leave Zlafchad? Does he not deserve to have his name remembered? This can only be done in the context of Zlafchad’s nachala, not the nachala of whoever they ultimately marry. This is the nub of their claim, a claim which, as we have already seen, Hashem Himself endorses.
A different motivation for the actions of Bnot Zlafchad emerges from the classical commentaries. When explaining why the passuk (1) traces Zlafchad’s line all the way back to Yosef Rashi quotes the Midrash as attributing the love of Eretz Yisrael which motivated Yosef to demand that he be buried in Israel as being the motivating factor behind Bnot Zlafchad’s daughters as well. The Neziv, in his commentary to the passuk “Teniu lanu achuza b’toch achei avinu” “Give us a holding within the holdings of our father’s brothers” (4) points out that the words “or father’s brothers” seem superfluous. In order to understand this, we must keeping mind that Zlafchad hailed from Shevet Menasha. As we will see in Parshat Matot, half of this tribe chose to take their nachala on the east bank of the Jordan, and not in Eretz Yisrael proper. The point here, says the Neziv, is that Zlafchad’s daughters wanted a place with Zlafchad’s brothers, who had chosen to go to Eretz Yisrael, and not with Zlafchad’s grandfather’s brothers, many of whom chose to stay on the eastern bank of the Jordan. Zlafchad’s daughters want to be in Eretz Yisrael, even if it means giving up on a portion in land which is already under Jewish control for the chance to have a nachala in Isreal fourteen years in the future.
Zlafchad’s daughters love of the land is in fact a reflection of the love of Eretz Yisrael that Chazal attribute in general to the women ofIsrael. Rashi already points this out at the end of the previous perek (26:64), when he quotes the Midrash Tanchuma which claims that while the generation of the Midbar died out over the course of the forty years in the desert, this was true only for the men. While the men said “Nitna Rosh v’Nashuva Mitzrayim”(14:4), Bnot Zlafchad said “Tena lanu Achuza”! The men wanted to return toEgypt, the women desired Eretz Yisrael. Interestingly, the Sifrei Zuta places the actual request of Bnot Zlafchad at the time when Bnei Yisrael wanted to return to Egypt. The Midrash registers Moshe’s surprise. Everyone else wants to go back, and you are asking for a nachala?!? It is difficult to explain the Sifrei Zuta in the context of our passukim, since that would place the request during Chet HaMeraglim, a problematic proposition given that our passukim tell us that the request was made in front of Elazar and not Aharon. Nonetheless, the message is clear, Bnot Zlafchad are driven by a burning love of Eretz Yisrael, and if they have anything to say about it no misapplied law of yerusha is going to take their nachala away from them.
It is important to note that by positing that a motive of Bnot Zlafchad was the love of the land we do not negate the first motivation that we noted, namely the desire to preserve the name of Zlafchad. It is possible that the classical commentators don’t even mention that motivation since it is obvious from the passuk. The love of Eretz Yisrael is simply another motivating factor in Bnot Zlafchad’s behavior.
If we understand that both a desire to preserve the name of their father and Chibat Ha’Aretz were motivating factors for Bnot Zlafchad and that the love of Eretz Yisrael was a family tradition running back to Yosef, we can also understand why the story of Bnot Zlafchad is immediately followed by the story of Hashem reminding Moshe that he would not enter the land and Moshe’s request to appoint a successor (27:12-23). The actions of Bnot Zlafchad represent something of a rebuke to Moshe on both these counts. Rashi explains that Moshe asked for a successor, hoping that one of his sons would be named (17). Moshe’s hopes are dashed when Hashem anoints Yehoshua instead. Bnot Zlafchad’s emphasis on continuing their father’s legacy could only have sharpened Moshe’s disappointment at not having seen his own sons continue his. Moreover, the demonstration of Chibat HaAretz by descendants of Yosef while Moshe is being told that he can not enter into the land can only remind us of the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 2:5) that contrasts Moshe’s behavior to the behavior of Yosef. Yosef, the Midrash tells us, publicly acknowledged his roots as being an Ivri- a Jew. As a result, he was ultimately buried in Eretz Yisrael. Moshe on the other hand allowed himself to be labeled as a Mitzri- an Egyptian, by Yitro’s daughters. As a result, he did not merit to enter Eretz Yisrael even in death. How stinging an experience it must have been for Moshe to listen to descendants of Yosef battle for their place in Eretz Yisrael while he knew that he would never be able to actualize his own Chibat HaAretz! (After I made this connection I was thrilled to see that I was “mitcavain” to a similar idea put forth by Rav Yehuda Cooperman in his work Kedushat Peshuto shel Mikra).
I began this shiur with a hakdasha to my newborn grandson. I would like to end with hodaa to Hashem for granting my wife and me a continuing shem, with the zechut that we are building our legacy in Eretz Yisrael. Hodu LaShem Ki Tov.