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'This is what G-d commands - the daughters of Zelafchad may marry whoever they choose, but they must marry within their own tribe.' (36:6)
The story of the daughters of Zelafchad is recounted in two parts. The first is where they approached Moses and the Israelites elders on their own accord. They appealed to be allowed to take the part of the Promised Land due to their deceased father, as he had no sons to succeed him. In response, G-d revealed to Moses that the Torah law of succession would allow the daughters to inherit land where there are no sons. Thus the five daughters would inherit the portion of land due to go to their family.
The daughters of Zelafchad make a second appearance at the end of this Parasha, but this time through their senior tribal representatives. They claimed that their tribe - Menasseh - would lose land if the women married outside their clan, and the land would pass to the tribe of the husband. It would mean that Menasseh would lose some of its possessions in the Holy Land to other tribes. In response, G-d revealed that the daughters of Zelaphchad were to marry into their own tribe only. (The Talmud has the tradition that this restriction was lifted once the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land and territory had been appropriately apportioned to the respective tribes.)
Why is essentially one story delivered in two parts? In the first part, the daughters of Zelafchad were allowed to have all they wanted in due course. The second - later on - added a high price. They would be allowed to marry into their own section of the community only. In the beginning there were no strings attached. Later on, there were strings attached. Why was the whole package not revealed in one go?
In response, a closer examination of the text in the light of Rabbinical tradition reveals two very different types of G-d revealed law, which should not be mixed together.
The first part is permanent - a 'hora'at keva' - a 'fixed law'. Daughters inherit the land of their fathers where there are no sons. [In addition, it became established Torah Law at the daughters' requests: perhaps with the implied message of 'if you don't ask, you don't get'.]..
The second, (following the sources quoted by the Ramban to 36:7), was 'hora'at sha'ah' only - temporary law. The very severe step of restricting the daughters' choice of marriage partners to members of their respective tribes was imposed only because of the genuine concern on the part of the established tribal elders that their section of the community would lose territory. That would no longer apply to the generations succeeding the one that took the possession of the Land, as the area would have already been distributed to the respective tribes and become established in their names. What would be apportioned to Menasseh would always belong to that tribe. So restricting marriage partners in succeeding generations would be turning the Torah to an anachronism - turning a temporary law to a permanent one.
This, then, is the teaching of the story of Zelafachad's daughters being placed into separate parts - to distinguish between 'hora'at keva' and 'hora'at sha'ah'. Its lesson for those who apply Jewish law to current situations is to be able to distinguish between the two types of source material, and beware of wantonly applying certain clearly temporary decrees to situations when and/or when they are no longer relevant. Whereby doing so would indeed be contrary to the original intention of those Rabbis responsible for the decree……
For those after more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com 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: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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