Our Parsha this week details the story of the daughters of Zelophechad. Much of the Torah portion has to do with the allotment and division of the Promised Land. Soon the Children of Israel will cross over the Jordan and begin the process of settling it. The Israelite families and tribes and clans will stake out their claims based upon the male head of the family and his heirs.
But Zelophechad dies in the wilderness without a male heir. He only has daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. These five women are champions of justice because they bring their case before Moses and the High Priest Eleazar and chieftains and the whole community. The challenged the prevailing wisdom saying, “Our father died in the wilderness…and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsman. (Numbers 27:3)”
Wow! They are demanding their fair share. These five women are speaking up to protect themselves, their family and their share of the Promised Land. And they do so in a way that will get their case heard. Rather than say we are entitled. They frame their argument in the language that those in leadership can hear them. They state their case by saying “Let not our father’s name be lost.”
And they are successful in their pursuit of justice. Moses takes their case before God and God judges in their favor. Not only are they given a holding, a stake in the Promised Land, they are given it as an inheritance themselves! This is a very significant ruling. But even more so their willingness to speak up and speak for themselves helps shape the law not only for this specific case but this will be applied to others in a similar situation. The newly received covenant at Mt. Sinai is amended by God in a direct response to the human sense of injustice!
What an important model for all of us involved in justice work.
Rule number one is: SPEAK UP! Don’t let an injustice just sit. Bring it to the attention of those in charge.
Rule number two: Speak about it in a language those in charge can hear. Present the case in a logical and passionate way.
Rule number three: Know who to take your case to. The five sisters presented their case not just to one person—but to the whole community as well as the leaders. Moses alone or their own chieftain alone might have dismissed them. But they made sure that the whole assembly as well as the leadership was present.
Rule number four: Make your case in the right place. The five daughters also knew that it was important to state their case at the Tent of Meeting. This is a holy place-a place they knew that God dwelled within.
Rule number five: Bring others-when pointing out injustice and demanding change have a group to help you with your case. This wasn’t just one of the daughters but all five together!
So the next time you are engaged in righting a wrong, or speaking truth to power, protesting an injustice, remember the example of the Daughters of Zelophechad and be inspired by their triumph!