Quiet Revolution

  • Rav Shimon Klein

Introduction

 

            Is a woman eligible to receive an inheritance? Scripture's answer to this question is clear: A woman does not inherit. Accordingly, if a person fathered only daughters but no sons, his estate passes to his brother and not to his own offspring.[1] Nevertheless, five women, the daughters of Tzelofchad from the tribe of Menashe, appear before Moshe and tell him their story:

 

Then came forward the daughters of Tzelofchad, the son of Chefer, the son of Gilad, the son of Makhir, the son of Menashe, of the families of Menashe the son of Yosef. And these are the names of his daughters: Machla, Noa, and Chogla, and Milka, and Tirtza. And they stood before Moshe, and before Elazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the Tent of Meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness and he was not in the company of those that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korach; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from his family because he has no son? Give to us a possession among the brothers of our father.” And Moshe brought their cause before the Lord. (Bamidbar 27:1-6)

 

            Tzelofchad's daughters petition Moshe, explaining that their father died without sons, and this being the case: "Give to us a possession among the brothers of our father." Moshe has no answer, and he therefore brings the daughters' cause before God. He receives the following answer:

 

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “The daughters of Tzelofchad speak right. You shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. (ibid. v. 7)

 

            Many questions arise from this story: Why does a woman not inherit? What was the driving force behind the daughters' request? Were they concerned about their father or about themselves? What is the meaning of the fact that God accedes to their request? Does God's Torah depend on petitions presented by mortals? In the wake of the daughters' appeal, the people of Israel are given detailed laws in the realm of inheritance. By virtue of what did they merit this?

 

And They Stood Before Moshe

 

             "Then they came forward" – The daughters of Tzelofchad start out at a distance. It would seem that their distance should be understood in the context of the notion presented in the two previous parshiyot, according to which women are not counted, nor do they inherit. The daughters take a step forward, seeking closeness – to be a part of the story.[2] "The daughters of Tzelofchad, the son of Chefer, the son of Gilad, the son of Makhir, the son of Menashe, of the families of Menashe the son of Yosef" – The fact that the women are referred to first as "the daughters of Tzelofchad,” rather than by their names, emphasizes in a most essential way Tzelofchad's presence in their world and in their identity. Tracing their lineage back six generations says something about the values of a family in which weight and honor are given to their roots and their past. "And these are the names of his daughters; Machla, Noa, and Chogla, and Milka, and Tirtza" – One might have expected this to read: "And these are their names," but once against Scripture alludes to their father. The issue now is their personal names and status, but these too draw from the intensified presence of their father.

 

"And they stood before Moshe, and before Elazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the Tent of Meeting, saying" – Standing indicates a position. They stand before three circles of authority – Moshe, Elazar the priest, the princes and the congregation – by the door of the Tent of Meeting. Why did they not approach Moshe in private and present him with their request? Why did they involve Elazar and the princes? And why did they turn to all the congregation? There is no escaping the conclusion that we are dealing with women who come not with a question about what to do, but with a statement: "Give to us a possession among the brothers of our father." They do not make their statement in private because the public resonance of their words is part of the story. At the same time, their words show no sign of defiance, and the circles before whom they stand are the relevant circles in the realm of inheritance. Involving them should be understood as involving those who have an interest in the matter, from different angles.[3]

 

As for the congregation, the formulation "before the princes and all the congregation" indicates that it was the princes who wielded authority before whom they stood, and not the congregation. Their presence should be understood as involvement to support the authority of the princes, before whom the question was brought.[4]

 

The Aarguments Presented by the Daughters of Tzelofchad

 

            "Our father died in the wilderness" – The daughters of Tzelofchad open by saying that their father had died, and continue to speak of him: "And he was not in the company of those that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korach." Why is it important to note that he was not among those that gathered themselves in the company of Korach? The daughters are precise in their presentation: One might have seen a similarity between Korach, who assembled all of the congregation, and the story of these women, who speak before all of the congregation. Korach demanded rights, and the women demand their right to inherit. Korach asked for something that God did not give him, and the women ask for something that God did not grant them. To counter this similarity, they make a distinction: Our father was not in the company of those who gathered themselves together against God in the company of Korach. In other words, there is no connection between the two stories.

 

Moreover, their words contain a critical judgment of Korach. From Korach's perspective, he stood himself against Moshe and Aharon and affiliated himself with God,[5] but the daughters of Tzelofchad adhere to Moshe's interpretation, according to which Korach and his company gathered themselves against God.[6] With these words, the daughters of Tzelofchad distinguish between the purity of heart that guides them and the quarrelsome nature of Korach and his company. "But he died in his own sin" – their father was guilty of some personal sin; he did not try to destroy the framework, nor did he fight for some principle. It is as if the daughters are saying: The same is true of us at this time. We are not engaged in an ideological struggle, but in a clean and simple life problem.

 

"And he had no sons" – Why is this formulated in past tense and not in present tense? Formulating their request in present tense would have a practical objective, as it would provide a context for their appeal. Formulating it in past tense shifts the discussion to the level of essence, as it relates to the spiritual status of one who had no sons. It is part of his life story that seeks an appropriate spiritual response.

 

"Why should the name of our father be done away from his family, because he has no son?" – Our father has a family, brothers, and now his name will be done away from that family. Why is the issue the "name"? Why don't the daughters ask: "Why should the inheritance from our father be done away in the midst of his family?" They do not seek inheritance as property. Rather, the issue is "the name of our father," and its application is the inheritance. Every person has a name, existence through the manner in which he is perceived. Doing away with his name means doing away with his existence. "Give[7] to us a possession among the brothers of our father" – The way to realize the raising up of our father's name is by giving us a possession among our father's brothers.[8]

 

It should be noted that the daughters of Tzelofchad do not speak about their rights as women. The issue from their perspective is their father's name and his continuity in this world. At the same time, their words are founded on certain assumptions – that they as daughters continue their father's existence and that they as daughters can raise his name in this world. Two different titles could have been given to their appeal: raising the name of their father or struggle over their status as women. Their choice is clear – it was their intention to raise the name of their father, while the question of their status as women faithfully served the primary issue.

 

In the coming lines, we will describe the context in which their request is made. The count of the people had just been completed, according to their tribes, their families, and their fathers' houses, in a kind of reorganization of the camp in the wake of the crisis involving the women of Moav. "The heads were raised," and new circles – tribe, family, and father's house – received their importance (26:1-51). Now, in a follow-up step, those who were counted are invited to an additional position: "To these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names" (26:53). "To these" – that is, to the families that had been counted previously. This sentence bestows new stature on the families. Inheritance is associated with them according to the number of the names of the family. Simply put, from now on, the family name will apply not only to a group of people, but also to a tract of land that is in their possession. "To the more numerous you shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer you shall give the less inheritance; to everyone shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him" (26:54) - This introduction to the section dealing with inheritances sets their foundation. The subject is the family receiving the inheritance, not the individuals, and certainly not their rights to the land. It is the family that inherits, as an additional link in the great event taking place in the book of Bamidbar – the organization of the camp. We find here circles and more circles of families that comprise the tribes, and now the family is given additional confirmation through the inheritance that bears its name.

 

Now, the daughters turn to Moshe and ask for an inheritance. Its context – totally faithful to what had been presented before the people – is the value of the family in the context of inheriting the land. Their argument is: "Why should the name of our father be done away from his family," for we too constitute a kind of continuity of our father, a kind of raising his name after his death.

 

"And Moshe brought their cause before the Lord" – They brought themselves (va-tikravna) before Moshe, Elazar, and the princes, and they also drew themselves near to an issue that had previously been considered far removed from them. Now Moshe brings (va-yikrav) their cause before the Lord.

 

Passing Inheritance

 

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “The daughters of Tzelofchad spoke right. You shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father's brothers. And if his father have no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his kinsman that is next to him of his family and he shall possess it; and it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moshe.” (27:6-11)

 

"The daughters of Tzelofchad speak right" – The first step is God’s confirmation of their words. The second step consists of two substantive statements: "You shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers," "and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them." At first glance, the two statements overlap, as they both speak about the inheritance that is to be given to them. There are, however, large gaps between them. The first statement speaks of "giving," whereas the second talks of "passing." In the first statement, the object is "the possession of inheritance," whereas in the second statement, it is "the inheritance of their father." In the first statement, the giving is "among their father's brothers," whereas in the second statement, the giving is "to them." In the first statement, the daughters are referred to in the masculine – "them" (lahem), "their father" (avihem) - whereas in the second statement, they are referred to in the feminine – "to them" (lahen). It should further be noted that the second statement establishes the law for future generations: "Then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter" (v. 7).

 

What is the relationship between the two statements?

 

It seems that the issue at hand is: What is the relationship between the inheritance of the son and the inheritance of the daughter? Is the logic the same? Or is a different position introduced here, one that is new in its conception of inheritance? It seems that the redundancy found here deals with this question.

 

In the first statement, the focus is on the context – "among their father's brothers," in the framework of the inheritance of all of the brothers. Under this heading, the daughters are appended to the brothers, the goal being the same - raising the name of the deceased over the inheritance.  In the second statement, matters are taken one step further. The term "lahen" (to them) points to their personal affiliation and to their essential connection to the inheritance of their father.[9] In the first statement, the description is of "giving," which includes entrance into their possession, similar to the formulation used for the other heirs and ignoring the uniqueness of their position. In the second statement, a unique term is used - "and you shall cause it to pass" - and it was chosen to describe the nature of what happens also in future generations: "You shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter" (v. 7). What is involved in this "passing"?

 

This word puts the finger on the problem created by the inheritance of a woman. In contrast to a son who continues his father and his family, as he stands as another link, a daughter's position is only temporary. Upon her marriage, she passes into the domain of her husband, and the property that she brings into the marriage similarly passes into his possession.[10] In this sense, if the subject is establishing "the name of the deceased over his inheritance" in the physical sense, mention of "passing" is an internal contradiction to the law that sees her as heir.

 

It seems that this "passing"" includes a spiritual invitation to identify in it a raising of the father's name of a different kind. Passing means passing from the domain of the father to the domain of the husband. What this means is that a daughter in both situations is found on some inner court, whose "walls" are set up first by her father and later by her husband. A special inner relationship is developed between the daughter and her father when she is in her father's domain, absorbing his spiritual existence and treasuring his personality and his memory with the threads of her life. In contrast to the son, who continues the family in the physical sense as one who inherits and replaces his father, the daughter continues the family in a more inner sense, embodying the inner existence that is in motion and is connected to her father's inner world, his feelings, and his mental and spiritual worlds. The change which is to take place in her, when she is to pass in the future into her husband's domain, is indeed a drawback when the field is the physical name of the deceased, but it is not a disadvantage when the issue is a living entity and a living connection that is essentially in motion and liable to shed its old form and adopt a new form.[11]

 

Unlike the first stage, which relates to "a possession of inheritance" – possession from the outside, with no affiliation - the talk now is about "the inheritance of their father" in the sense of internal connection, associated to their father and his inheritance (see note 8). Unlike the first formulation in the masculine – lahem and avihem – as if they were brothers of the deceased, in their very possession of the land, now the basis is their inner affiliation as women, and thus the formulation in the feminine stands at the heart of the matter.

 

The daughters of Tzelofchad merited bringing a new law into the world. Previously, inheritance was connected to those people who were counted – those who inherited the land - and the sole issue was calling the name of the deceased over his inheritance, the continuity and eternity of the early generations. In this sense, the matter was addressed to the men, and not to the women whose possession of the land is shaky. The daughters of Tzelofchad brought a new dimension to the laws of inheritance, a channel in which there is a different kind of continuity, one that accords with the inner position of a daughter. As Tzelofchad's daughters, they were filled with the consciousness of continuing their father and the pure desire of raising his name in the world. These women merited that the laws of inheritance were appended to their request, as a sort of expansion and spelling out of the details in the response to their appeal. By doing so, Scripture tells us of the soul of these laws. Continuing the way of the previous generations in a live manner in the hearts of future generations, who sear into their spirits the testament of their fathers and bring them to life in both their ways and their spirits.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] Two counts of the people are conducted in the book of Bamidbar. The second count takes place in the fortieth year, when the sum is taken of every "man, from twenty years and upward." This is followed by the section dealing with the apportioning of the land of Israel: "To these the land shall be divided" – those who were counted are also those to whom the land will be divided. Women were neither counted nor did they receive an inheritance.

[2] A similar expression is found in connection with those people who were far away or ritually impure: "And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at evening in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moshe, so did the children of Israel. And there were certain men who were defiled by the dead body of a man who could not keep the passover on that day, and they came before (va-yikrevu) Moshe and before Aharon on that day" (Bamidbar 9:5-6). Earlier, they had been impure, and now they come near with the objective of narrowing the gap and the distance. Another example: "And the officers who were over the thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near (va-yikrevu) to Moshe. And they said to Moshe, ‘Your servants have taken the sum of the men of war who are under our charge, and not one man of us is missing’" (Bamidbar 31:48-49). Here too, the people took the booty – the property of the Midyanites – and with their coming near, they wish that it should be received favorably by God.

[3] Elazar the priest and the princes are described later as having been charged with the issue of inheriting the land alongside Yehoshua: "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, These are the names of the men who shall share out the land to you: Elazar the priest, and Yehoshua the son of Nun. And you shall take one prince of every tribe, to divide the land by inheritance" (Bamidbar 34:16-18).

[4] A fitting translation of the involvement of the various factors alongside their loyalty to Moshe is found in the following midrash: "'And they stood before Moshe, and before Elazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation.' R. Elazar the son of R. Shimon said: Can it be that after going to Moshe they went to Elazar and then they went to the princes and all the congregation? Rather, initially they went to the captains of tens, and they said to them: We do not know. They went to the captains of fifties, and they said to them: We do not know. They went to the captains of hundreds, and they said to them: We do not know. They went to the captains of thousands, etc. They went to Elazar, and he said to them: I do not know. Elazer led them to Moshe. From where do you say that even Moshe said: I do not know? The verse says: 'And Moshe brought their cause before the Lord'" (Sifrei Zuta 27:2). The midrash raises a difficulty: After they directed their question to Moshe, what room is there for the lower circles? Did they approach them after having alread approached Moshe? The midrash answers that the biblical account relates to the result, not the process. The result is that the Moshe was at the top, and under him one circle and another circle. At the same time, the existence of each of these circles indicates the reverse process: The question was first directed to the captains of tens, and when they were unable to give an answer, it was then directed to the captains of hundreds and thousands, then to the princes, and finally to Moshe. The presence of these circles should be understood as the presence of those who wished together with the daughters of Tzelofchad to receive an answer to the question that had been raised.

What does the midrash wish to convey in its account of a question that passes from the captains of tens to the captains of hundreds until it reaches Moshe, without skipping any stage? Did the daughters actually think that one of the captains of tens had the authority to introduce a novel ruling regarding the status of women? (As it turned out, even Moshe had difficulty with the issue, and so he had to bring the matter before God.) It seems that in this way, the midrash expresses the simple demand arising from the words of the daughters, who thought that a person's family perpetuates him after his death. The simplicity of their demand is reflected in its being presented initially to simple people, who are expected to understand their request, and step by step the appeal is brought before the nation's elite, who sometimes have difficulty understanding the simplest of things.

[5] "And they gathered themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you raise yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord?’" (Bamidbar 16:3).

[6] "For which cause both you and all your company who are gathered together are against the Lord; and what is Aharon, that you murmur against him?" (Bamidbar 16:11).

[7] Their request is directed to Moshe, despite the presence of Elazar, the princes, and all the congregation.

[8] It is interesting that they ask to receive a "possession" (achuza), while the term that repeats itself throughout this passage is "inheritance" (nachala). Achuza denotes a place over which in principle there is no title, and therefore requires constant holding (achiza). Nachala denotes connection and correspondence, similar to the current of a stream (nachal). In the book of Vayikra, the land is seen as God's land, and as such it it always called land of possession and never land of inheritance. In the book of Devarim, on the other hand, the land is given to the people, and there it is always referred to as the land of inheritance, and never as the land of possession. In the book of Bamidbar, which describes the transition from one position to the other, the two names coexist. The daughters' use of this term reflects their recognition of the fact that their father's inheritance belonging to them is no simple matter.

[9] There is no reason to slide from here to possessiveness towards the deceased's assets, since this is not the issue. We argue that the issue is the raising of the name of the deceased, and in this context note is made of the daughters' connection to the inheritance.

[10] At the end of the book of Bamidbar, an issue is raised from a tribal perspective. The daughters of Tzelofchad are liable to marry men from other tribes, in which case their inheritance will leave their tribe. The response given there is that the women are to marry their own tribesmen, and thus their inheritance will not be passed to a different tribe. In fact, they married their cousins​​.

[11] Interestingly, the Talmud connects the passing of the inheritance to the father of the deceased: "For it was taught: R. Yishmael son of R. Yose expounded: [It is written]: 'If a man dies and has no son, [you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter].' [This implies that] where there is a daughter, the inheritance is passed from the father, but no inheritance is passed from the father when there are [only] brothers" (Bava Batra 109a). This passing detaches the inheritance from the father of the deceased and transfers it to the daughter of the deceased. The two concepts are stood one against the other, and priority is given to the daughter. The father of the deceased symbolizes the head of the family in its broader sense and its continuity in the eternal sense. One can imagaine a situation in which the deceased has no sons, and the inheritance returns to his father, into the bosom of the nuclear family, and from there to his sons, the brothers of the deceased, as those who continue the father of the deceased. The baraita sees in the words, "and you shall cause his inheritance to pass," as negating the priority of the father and giving prefence to the daughter, despite the fact that by preferring the daughter the inheritance might at some point leave the grandfather, the father of the deceased, and be transferred to a different family as a result of her marriage. This contrast intensifies the meaning of the resolution - to prefer the present in the form of the mental and spiritual continuity of the daughter over the categorical continuity of the name of the inheritance for generations, with the return of the inheritance to the father of the deceased and to the family in its broad sense by way of the brothers of the deceased.