Learning Our Lessons
Yael Eckstein | July 16, 2020
So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the LORD commanded Moses. Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side. — Numbers 36:10-11
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches, and Massei means journey.
Many of us probably aren’t familiar with the story that takes place at the conclusion of Numbers. On the surface, it’s not the most compelling story in the Bible, and to some, it seems anticlimactic. But the story resonates with me because I am one of three daughters in our family. And I was privileged to grow up in a household where my father emphasized the important role of women in the Bible and women in leadership. Without that belief, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.
I love the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, and how they challenged the established Jewish law at the time. But I cherish this story even more because it demonstrates their obedience to God, to faith, and to preserving the peace, shalom, of the entire community — all values that the children of Israel had to learn and instill in themselves before entering the Promised Land.
The story is a continuation of one that began nearly ten chapters earlier. The five daughters of Zelophehad approached Moses because they felt it was unfair that since their father had died without any sons, his progeny would have no inheritance in the land. Moses checked with God and ruled that these women could inherit their father’s portion.
However, in our reading today, the members of Zelophehad’s tribe realized that if the daughters married out of the tribe, the land would be lost to the tribe forever. Moses ruled that the women must marry within their own tribe so that they would both inherit the land and the land would remain in the tribal territory.
In essence, this story encapsulates the most important values of the Bible — values that took the Israelites 38 years of wandering to absorb. The first is being obedient to God no matter what. The daughters of Zelophehad could have protested the restrictions placed on them, but they accepted the ruling with love. Secondly, they honored God’s chosen leader, Moses, and remained faithful to his leadership. Finally, the nation maintained mutual respect and peace throughout the ordeal. No civil war broke out over the controversy, and the daughters found husbands within their tribe.
Serving God is not complicated at all. As this story shows us, all it really takes is those three things — faith, obedience, and love for our fellow men. While it may take a lifetime to master these, the rewards are worth it.
Your turn: What lessons have you recently learned about serving God? Share your answers below.