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   by Jacob Solomon

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The heads of the family of the children of Gilead... from the family of Joseph spoke before Moses and the leaders of the Israelites... (on the claims of the daughters of Zelafchad) (36:1-5)

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 area within 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 Torah reading for the which is the end of the Book of Numbers. But this time it was quite indirectly. It was through their senior tribal representatives, who took up their cause on their behalf. 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, it may be suggested that was to set an important tone - namely the need for civilized and equitable behavior on coming into their inheritance in the Promised Land.

For this division of the conquered land was totally different to any other in the region - whether before or since. Unlike it being the possession of the conqueror, it was divided up amongst the people - whether rich or poor - in equal shares (26:55-57, see Ramban ad loc). It was not a free-for-all, or where those closest to royalty receiving grants of land in exchange for services to the king. The reality of being of one of the Patriarch Jacob's descendants entering the Promised Land in the act of completing the Exodus was enough to give each participant title to land. That took place through lottery. All participants were equals. Nothing like that ever took place in history - nor did it ever to take place again.

However underlying the division of land were values which were to be amplified by the prophets several hundred years hence - most notably Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah. They were righteousness (tzedek), justice (mishpat), generosity (chesed), and compassion (rachamim). The land was not to be seized and taken by the strongest sub-tribes, 'as wolves on the fold'. It was not even up for taking full permanent possession. The land was duly apportioned by Joshua by lottery only on completion of the first seven years spent on conquering the land.

It is those principles that are exemplified at the end of Book of Numbers, in the claim of the daughters of Zelafchad. All four qualities - tzedek, mishpat, chesed, and rachamim were exemplified in this latter part of the story of their claim. The weakness of their heredity title to land - that it would not belong to the family and tribe after the daughters' deaths - was taken up by their tribes' leaders, on their behalf.

And these four qualities which underlay the Israelites spiritual right to the Holy Land were underscored by this incident - a fitting one for the closure of the instructions for taking possession of Canaan, and the Book of Numbers:

(a) Tzedek - recognizing that women who would not have had the same access to the male-monopoly of leaders would have their needs taken up by those with power

(b) Mishpat - justice - that the right to legal protection (even in civil matters) was the same whether rich or poor, male or female

(c) Chesed - that people in power should use it for the good of others, and for their needs - rather than merely their selfish interests

(d) Rachamim - that the limitations placed on the daughters of Zelafchad on whom they were married was not 'a decree of justice for your generations' (c.f. the law of cities of refuge - 35:29). It was for that generation only, and would not endure for future generations. This is exemplified stated in the Talmud (Taanit 30a). The ban was subsequently lifted to the universal rejoicing that a barrier to the unity of the nation no longer existed - one of the event rejoiced over on Tu B'Av - the Fifteenth of Avů

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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