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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pinchas: Holy women, Holy Land

Summary

G'd commands Moses to count the Jews. At the same time the men gathered to make plans to return to Egypt, Zelophechad's daughters were pleading to inherit part of the Holy Land. The women also remained loyal to G'd at the sin of the golden calf. The actual exodus from Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women of that generation. Every name mentioned in this count contains two letters from G'd's name. The two attributes of generosity and loyalty are especially needed for life in the Land of Israel. The Land of Israel does not tolerate marital disloyalty or forbidden relationships. It will be dependent upon these two great merits that G'd will allow the Jewish people to live in peace in the Holy Land.

Second count

In this week's Torah portion, G'd commands Moses to count the Jews. As Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma: "After the exodus from Egypt, they were delivered with an account. Now when the time had come for Moses to pass away and return his flock, he was told to make another account." At the end of the account it says (Bamidbar 26:63-65): "These are the ones counted by Moses and Elazar the Kohen and of these there was no man of those counted by Moses and Aaron who counted the children of Israel in the desert of Sinai. As G'd had said about them, 'They will surely die in the desert.'"

Zelophechad's daughters

Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that points out that only the men were counted and subsequently it says that there was no "man" who had survived from the first count. The women were not condemned to die in the desert and as such they had the merit to enter the land of Israel. It was decreed that the men could not enter the land due to their participation in the sin of the spies as it revealed their lack of appreciation for the Holy Land. On the other hand, says the Midrash, the women expressed their love for the Land of Israel. Immediately after the counting it is related how the five daughters of Zelophechad brought their case in front of the court of Moses asking to inherit a lot in the Holy Land because their father had no sons to inherit him. G'd had specially concealed this law of female inheritance from Moses in order to give these righteous women the merit of having the law written in the Torah through them. The Yalkut teaches that after the evil report of the spies the men gathered and said (Bamidbar 14:4) "Let us make a head and return to Egypt". At that very same time, the daughters of Zelophechad brought their case to Moses and pleaded to inherit part of the Holy Land. He questioned them, "Are you not aware that the Jews are seeking to return to Egypt, so why are you asking for an inheritance in the Land of Israel?" To this they answered, "We know that at the end, the Jews are going to take possession of the Land. Especially now when others are desecrating the words of G'd it is the time to stand up for the honour of G'd."

Golden calf

This was not the first time that righteous women stayed loyal to the words of G'd where the men failed. At the sin of the golden calf, where the seed of the decree against the Jewish men was planted, prohibiting them from entering the Holy Land (see Rashi Bamidbar 14:33), we find that the women did not participate. Aaron, in an effort to delay the making of the calf, told the men to go and remove the gold rings in the ears of their wives and children (Shemos 32:2). However, we are told immediately after Aaron's delay tactic that the people removed their own rings from their ears. As our sages point out, the women never participated in the making of the golden calf. This was not due to the fact that the women were not ready to part with their jewellery. As we find at the time of the erection of the Tabernacle, it says: (Shemos 35:22) "And the men came with the women " The commentaries point out that it appears that the men were only secondary to the women in donating the gold and silver. So we see that the women were more than ready to give their jewelry to a worthy cause but remained loyal to G'd at the sin of the golden calf.

Exodus from Egypt

Not only did the women merit to enter the Holy Land, and were not subject to demise in the desert as were the men, the Talmud (Sotah 11b) points out that the actual exodus from Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women of that generation. The Yalkut in this week's portion (26) mentions that only one women had a child with an Egyptian male and even in that case the woman was deceived (see Rashi Shemos 2:11). The merit of this avoidance of immorality, says the Yalkut, was instrumental in bringing about the exodus.

Two letters

The Yalkut further brings (as quoted in Rashi (26:5)) that the gentiles mocked the Jews who claimed that all their children were born from Jewish parents. They calculated that if the Egyptians had power to control the bodies of the Jewish men, surely they had the power to violate their wives. Our sages explain that this is the reason why every name mentioned in the count contains two letters from G'd's name. They are all prefixed with a "hey" and suffixed with a "yud" besides one that has the "hey" and "yud" in the actual name. This is what King David says in Tehillim (122:4): "The tribes of G'd, a testimony for Israel", meaning that G'd Himself testified for the Jewish lineage in every tribe.

Loyalty and generosity

The Kli Yakar points out that these two attributes, that the Jewish women excelled in, generosity and loyalty are especially needed for life in the Land of Israel. There are many tithes and other donations required for the produce grown in the Land of Israel; not least the special commandment of taking challah fulfilled in general by the women who would separate part of the bread and donate it to the Kohanim, when they were able to consume it with purity.

Contamination

The Kli Yakar further points out that the Land of Israel does not tolerate marital disloyalty or forbidden relationships. As it says, after the laws of forbidden relationships (Vayikra 18:24-28), "Do not become contaminated through any of these; for through all of these the nations that I expel before you became contaminated. The Land became contaminated and the Land disgorged its inhabitants. But you shall safeguard My decrees and My judgments, and not commit any of these abominations Let not the Land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you." The special holiness of the Land of Israel does not tolerate marital disloyalties or forbidden relationships.

Holy Nation

These two great merits of loyalty and generosity of the women were imperative to enable the Jewish people to enter the Holy Land. And it will be dependent on these two great merits that G'd will allow the Jewish people to live in peace in this land. We are on the threshold of the "three weeks" when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the exile of our ancestors. Although a major part of the Jewish nation lives in the land of Israel, we have still not merited the redemption that we long for almost two thousand years. In these days of great concern for the future of our brothers and sisters living in the Holy Land, it is our prayer and hope that the Jewish nation will merit to live up to the high expectations and thereby merit to live in peace as a Holy Nation in the Holy Land.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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