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   by Jacob Solomon

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The five daughters of Zelaphchad… from the family of Menasseh the son of Joseph made their approach. These are their names… (27:1)
which is followed immediately with:

They stood before Moses, before Elazar the priest, and before the leaders and the entire assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (27:2).

Having got the attention of the top - Moses and the Israelite leadership - the daughters made their case:

"Our father died in the desert, but he was not among the assembly that stood against G-d in the assembly of Korach, but he died though his own sin… Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us possession of land among our father's brothers" (27:3-4).

The claim of the sisters was based on what they believed was right and fair for women as well as men in their circumstances. The letter of the Law, the narrative implies, would have entitled sons, but not daughters to a portion in the Promised Land - even when there were no sons in the family.

The text, however, recounts their approach in unusual detail. Instead of simply "they asked Moses to be able to inherit land that would have gone to their father", it carries detail: "they made their approach", then lists their names and ancestors, then recounts that they "stood before Moses" and lists those who present with him, then states precisely where the meeting took place, and finally fills up two verses with a word-by-word report of precise words used in getting their point across.

As explanation, the subtext of their claim for land is highlighted by Rashi. They did not ask for possession through wanting to be landowners or enjoy the social comforts and prestige associated with possession of real estate. They did so out of one consideration only - love for the Holy Land and wanting to be part of it. Indeed, Rashi (to 26:64) brings the tradition that the decree of the generation of the Exodus being barred entry to the Promised Land applied to the men only, as following the report of the Spies they declared mutiny with "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt" (14:4). But the women survived as they were not involved; they "loved the land".

It was indeed that love of the Promised Land that spurred them to cut through red tape and put their case to Moses, forcefully and personally. The story is unique, as it is the only place in the Torah where women put themselves forward and took themselves to the top - to Moses, to the "entrance of the Tend of Meeting" - where the Divine Presence was of highest intensity and where G-d communicated with Moses (7:89).

This point needs careful consideration. These women were alone, with no man in their immediate family prepared to stand up for them. Possibly, their surviving male relatives had their own eyes on the deceased father's allotted portion in the land. It was probably quite unheard of for women in their own right to stand up and be heard at the place where they would be taken most seriously - at the Tent of Meeting. Very likely by doing so, they were putting their powers of persistence as well as their social reputations on the line.

Thus the daughters of Zelaphchad - the five sisters - did not let themselves be elbowed aside as women. They "made their approach" - in the all-male ultra-elite - a very daring action emanating from their love of the Land and their utter conviction that that Torah law was designed to be applied fairly, and protect the weaker members of society. Their courage gave them the drive to cut through red tape and directly approach those who could bring the change they wanted.

That indeed teaches us what to do when a situation requires a legitimate approach to the gadol hador, and more mundanely to the rich, the powerful, and the famous. Instead of gossiping about bad luck and "they're all against us", switch on the passion and indeed take the case right up to the top. Overcome the shyness and apply maximum effort to making the necessary connections through their armies of gatekeepers, and be prepared to endure the many frustrations en route.

And indeed, Moses treated them with due seriousness, taking matters at the Tent of Meeting up to the next level where he "presented their case to G-d" (27:8), and G-d took the side of the daughters and granted them the provision of land that they sought.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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