Sunday, July 12, 2020

Parashat Pinchas: B'not Tz'lofchad--the elephant in the room

Numbers , Chapter 27:


א  וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד, בֶּן-חֵפֶר בֶּן-גִּלְעָד בֶּן-מָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹת, מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן-יוֹסֵף; וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֹתָיו--מַחְלָה נֹעָה, וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה. 1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
ב  וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְלִפְנֵי הַנְּשִׂיאִם, וְכָל-הָעֵדָה--פֶּתַח אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, לֵאמֹר. 2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying:
ג  אָבִינוּ, מֵת בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְהוּא לֹא-הָיָה בְּתוֹךְ הָעֵדָה הַנּוֹעָדִים עַל-יְהוָה, בַּעֲדַת-קֹרַח:  כִּי-בְחֶטְאוֹ מֵת, וּבָנִים לֹא-הָיוּ לוֹ. 3 'Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons.
ד  לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן; תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ. 4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.'

They were no fools, these women:  They knew that they couldn't ask for what they really wanted--the right not to be left destitute just because they had neither a father, nor brothers, nor husbands to support them--because, apparently, one simply didn't discuss the welfare of females. With property of their own, they would be in demand as wives.  But the only way they could get that property was to claim that they were simply seeking to preserve the memory of their father.  This wasn't just a matter of respect--it was a matter of survival.

If you want proof, just look at the Book of Ruth.  When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, everyone knew exactly who she was, yet no one offered her any help.  The only reason why she didn't starve to death was that Ruth went out to glean like any other beggar.  The same fate awaited the daughters of Tz'lofchad--any male relative would simply have taken their father's property and ignored them.

Sunday, July 12, 2020 second thought

It's not so much that "one simply didn't discuss the welfare of females."  The problem--the elephant in the room--is the patriarchal system, under which most women without men were simply consigned to poverty.  If B'not Tz'lochad had protested the system itself, insisting that they, too, not just their father, deserved to be shown respect, they might have been expelled from the camp as heretics.


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