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Tzelofhad's Daughters: A Rabbinic Perspective
The previous chapter yet again accounts for the nation. The issue is inheritance. Who of which clan receives which portion of eretz yisrael. Here and there the Torah sadly reminds us of the tragedies of the nation. We are reminded of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. We are reminded of Korah's rebellion and we are told that the earth did not swallow up his sons. Amidst all the names comes the story of five fatherless daughters whom are fearful of being disinherited.
Pay close attention to how the daughters approach Moshe and how Moshe responds.
Why do the daughters make a point of disassociating their father from Korah?
What is the essence of their claim?
Why is God so pleased with their claim?
Why is this questioning of authority considered permissible, while Korah's questioning was considered rebellious?
Numbers 27: The Daughters of Tzelofhad
1 Now there came-near the daughters of Tzelofhad son of Hefer son of Gil'ad son of Makhir son of Menashe, of the clan of Menashe son of Yosef, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahla, No'a, Hogla, Milka and Tirtza.
2 They stood before Moshe and before El'azar the priest and before the leaders and the entire community, at the entrance to the Tent of Appointment, saying:
3 Our father died in the wilderness. He was not in the midst of the community that came-together against YHWH, in the community of Korah; rather, for his own sin he died, and sons he did not have.
4 Why should the name of our father be taken-away from the midst of his clan, (just) because he has no son? Give us a holding in the midst of our father's brothers!
5 Moshe brought-near their case, before the presence of YHWH.
6 And YHWH said to Moshe, saying:
7 Rightfully speak the daughters of Tzelofhad! You are to give, yes, give them a hereditary holding in the midst of their father's brothers, you are to transfer the inheritance of their father to them.
8 And to the Children of Israel you are to speak, saying: Any-man, when he dies and a son he does not have, you are to transfer his inheritance to his daughter.
9 And if he has no daughter, you are to give his inheritance to his brothers.
10 And if he has no brothers, you are to give his inheritance to his father's brothers.
11 And if no brothers has his father you are to give his inheritance to his kin that is nearest to him from his clan, and he is to take-possession of it; it shall be for the Children of Israel as a law of procedure, as YHWH commanded Moshe.
Talmud Baba Batra 119b
It was taught: The daughters of Tzelofhad were wise women, they were exegetes, and they were virtuous.
They [must] have been wise, since they spoke at an opportune moment; for R. Samuel son of R. Isaac said: [Scripture] teaches that Moses our master was sitting and holding forth an exposition on the section of levirate marriages, (this is the law that states if a widow dies and she has yet to bear children, she should marry her deceased husband's brother.)
They said unto him: 'If we are like a son in the case of levirate marriage which means our mother should not marry our uncle then give us our inheritance as if we were sons; if not, let our mother be subject to the law of levirate marriage!' And Moses immediately brought their cause before the Lord.
They [must] have been exegetes, for they said: 'If he had a son we would not have spoken'.
They were virtuous, since they were married to such men only as were worthy of them.
Your Talmud Navigator
1. According to the rabbis, why were the daughters of Tzelofhad wise?
2. What do Tzelofhad's daughters base their claim upon?
3. Why does Moshe bring this claim to God?
4. Why do the rabbis find Tzelofhad's daughters pleasing?
5. What makes this challenge to Moshe not only legitimate, but also virtuous?
The rabbis see the daughters of Tzelofhad as the first legitimate questioners, the first group to actually apply rabbinic tools for understanding the Torah. They lead the way to understanding how the Torah should be learned, how the Torah should be understood and how the Torah should be questioned.
The laws of inheritance are traditionally adjudicated by males, yet it is these daughters who understand opportunity and understand that pre-conceived notions of what the Torah and its leadership may allow are not necessarily true. They perceive a contradiction, and they trust that Moshe rabbenu, like them is seeking the truth, and not merely using the Torah as an acquisitive tool for a rapacious gender. That trust is well placed as Moshe demonstrates his humility by admitting that he does not have the answer only to find that these virtuous daughters know that which had escaped him. Moshe's ignorance of the law is eclipsed by his integrity. This encounter is the antidote for Korah's rebellion and it is the first and finest moment of Torah study and the halachic process.