As Bnei Yisroel are about to enter the Promised Land, the time to apportion the land to the various tribes and families arrives. The land is to be "divided as an inheritance according to the names of their father's tribes... according to the lot..." One family is concerned about this division. These are five sisters, daughter of a man named Tzelaphchad. They are his only children. Having no brothers, they protest to Moshe that the portion meant for their father will be lost to their family and tribe, since the lottery would include only the names of the men. Indeed, they have a valid point, and Hashem teaches Moshe the laws of inheritance that are then recorded in the Torah and become known as the laws of the Daughters of Tzelaphchad.
It is an amazing privilege to have one's name inscribed so profoundly in the Torah, notes the Sifsei Chaim. How did these women merit such an honor? Why are they considered wise and righteous? And if the land was to be apportioned by Divine inspiration, adds the Dorash David, how could these women appear to challenge the process and ask for an inheritance in the land?
First Rabbi Frand points out that the women of that generation (and often in general) had more faith and love of the land than their male counterparts. They did not give their gold and silver for the golden calf, nor did they request spies to reconnoiter the land in order to move forward into the land. While the men wept at the spies' report, the women did not. Therefore, only the men died in the desert. The daughters of Tzelophchad were a product of that generation.
The daughters here had a valid argument. According to the laws of yibum/levirate marriage, a woman whose husband dies leaving her childless, is required to marry her husband's brother (or closest male relative) to perpetuate her husband's name. The sisters therefore first asked if their mother was required to be a yibum wife to perpetuate their father's name. Since girls were considered legitimate offspring for these laws, their mother was absolved of requiring a levirate marriage. Should they not also then be considered legitimate offspring to inherit their father's portion of the land?
Rabbi Friedlander z"l, the Sifsei Chaim, points out that although the request may have been technically and superficially about land, their request was much deeper. It wasn't just the land that these women wanted, but rather a way of perpetuating their father's legacy, their father's path in life and his service to God. Their goal was similar to the goal of yibum, and therefore they came forward when the laws of yibum were being discussed. This explains why they did not marry for the entire time they were in the desert, because they were unclear whether their mission was to continue their father's legacy or to become the helpmeet of a husband in his legacy. The land was to be apportioned not only according to population density, but also according to each tribe's mission, according to the prophecy and blessing of Yaakov Avinu. Thus, for example Zevulun, destined to be a merchant, would have land along the seashore, and Asher would get fertile lands that could feed kings. These daughters' pure intention was to fulfill their father's mission as a son would have done. Therefore, this chapter is referred to in their name.
In a fascinating discussion in Letitcha Elyon, Rabbi Wolfson brings these themes together through the story of Ruth. First he presents the Kabbalistic concept that everything exists in the three modalities signified by the acronym OShoN/smoke (as the smoke rises from earth toward heaven). O stands for Olam/world/place/space. Then there is Shanah/year/time. Finally, it exists as a living entity, a Nefesh. Ruth unites these concepts as the theme of a levirate marriage plays out in the Megillah. Ruth returns with Naomi to Beit Lechem (place), the ancestral home of her dead husband. She wants to perpetuate the legacy of her husband through the levirate marriage. Mr. Ploni, the original "shidduch", is interested in the land, but not in perpetuating the legacy of the deceased. Boaz accepts both, and brings Ruth's neshamah back "home" into the fold of Bnei Yisroel. Boaz is Ruth's true husband. The marriage takes place in Beit Lechem on the 17th of Tammuz. Both the fields and the legacy return to their ancestral birthright as the jubilee year signifies.
Both the date/time and the place are significant in our discussion. The 17th of Tammuz. was the date we were originally meant to receive the Luchot, the Tablets of the Law. It was meant to be a great holiday and will again, in the future, be a great holiday when the relationship between Bnei Yisroel and Hashem is fully repaired and Moshiach comes. But the relationship was severed when Bnei Yisroel made the golden calf and Moshe smashed those Luchot. Ruth is instrumental in that repair as her descendent, Moshiach ben David will complete the process.
Beit Lechem is equally significant. It is at the crossroads of Beit Lechem that our Matriarch Rachel lies buried. As Bnei Yisroel was being led into exile and stopped to weep at her grave, her neshamah wept before Hakodosh Boruch Hu. It is to her that the Prophet Jeremiah relays God's promise that her children will return to their ancestral home, the lands that are here, in our parsha, being allocated to the tribes. The final verses of the Megillah trace the Judaic dynasty not only down to David but also back to Peretz, because Ruth, like the daughters of Tzelaphchad, understood the importance of preserving the family legacy and memory of loved ones.
We are all familiar with the phrase, "May the Neshamah have an Aliyah," actually the title of a book by Rabbi Tzvi Hebel. We know that a human being creates merits for himself by doing mitzvoth during his life. However, how can merits be created for the deceased after his death? Rabbi Hebel notes that the mitzvoth of one's offspring, of the "legs" he created, elevate a person's soul after his death. Rabbi Hebel notes the difference between men and angels. People during their lives are called "mehalchim/walkers" while angels are called "omdim/those who stand still". A person who certainly begins life on a level lower than an angel's can rise higher than an angel through his walk through his life and the actions he does. But once he dies, he can no longer move and ascend. He no longer has functioning legs. But his children become his legs and can continue to bring merit and elevate his soul through their Torah and good deeds. Indeed, not just children, but friends and relatives as well can elevate the neshamah of a deceased loved one by designating their learning and mitzvoth for the benefit of the neshamah of the deceased.
Perhaps that is one reason that the Torah often makes a point of tracing the genealogy of the persona within the narrative. But genealogy runs both ways, down to descendents and up to ancestors. Rabbi Gamliel HaCohen Rabinovits explores this idea in Tiv Hatorah by noting that the genealogy of Bnot Tzelaphchad is recorded back to Menashe and then repeated to Menashe the son of Yoseph. Why, asks Rabbi Rabinovitz, do we need to emphasize that this was Menashe the son of Yoseph? Because the legacy of Yoseph is now being manifested in his descendants, Bnot Tzelaphchad. Just as Yoseph proved his love of Eretz Yisroel by requesting that his bones be brought to Eretz Yisroel for burial, so too did these women show their love of the land by requesting an inheritance in it. Each of us is both a recipient of the legacy and a link to carry it forward.
[Rashi cites Shmuel in explaining the sin that brought about Tzelaphchad's death. He claims that when the spies came back with their negative report and Hashem decreed that this generation would not enter the land, Tzelaphcad and a group of men ascended the mountain in their desire to enter the land. Although they loved the land, they disobeyed God's decree, Hashem was not with them, and they died at the hands of the enemy. According to this interpretation, the love of the land was transmitted to them not only across seven generations, but directly from their father as well. CKS]
In contrast, Rabbi Grosbard z"l notes the legacy of Reuven, whose descendants received their land on the other side of the Jordan River, outside Eretz Yisroel proper. Reuven went out at the time of the harvest and gathered some mandrakes which he brought to his mother Leah. Rabbi Grosbard z"l notes that while Reuven certainly gathered these flowers in ownerless property, he was still interested in getting more that he had in his own home. This interest in possessions now reappeared in his descendants as a desire and request for large spaces of pasture for their flocks rather than in the sacredness of the land.
From the time Hashem promised Avraham Avinu this land, every Jew must feel a connection to Eretz Yisroel, must feel as if this is where he's from. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin z"l in Oznayim Latorah notes that while Yoseph merited being buried in Eretz Yisroel, Moshe Rabbenu did not. Why? Yoseph always identified himself with the land saying he was stolen from the Land of the Hebrews. In contrast, Moshe was called an Egyptian, yet he never corrected that designation to say he was a Hebrew. Moshe's burial outside Eretz Yisroel is a consequence of his silence rather than a punishment.
Bnot Tzelaphchad also had this deep connection to Eretz Yisroel, more like Yoseph than like Menashe. Rabbi Druck, citing the Chasam Sofer, explains that if all they wanted was land, they would have been satisfied with land on the other side of the Jordan River where half their tribe settled.(But it must be noted that Moshe assigned them this land without their requesting it in contrast to Reuven and Gad. Perhaps, as some commentators note, Moshe wanted Yoseph/Menashe's love of the land and connection to the rest of the people to rub off on the tribes of Reuven and Gad. CKS)
We often speak of chibat ha Aretz/"love" of the Land, the terminology of Rashi in characterizing Bnot Tzelaphchad. Rabbi Kofman z"l notes a difference in meaning between ahavah and chibah, both generally translated as "love". He notes that ahavah is self - centered, I "love" fish, so I eat a lot of it, I "love" money because I can buy so much for myself with it. In contrast, "chibah" is to hold something dear for its own sake, to treasure and cherish it. Bnot Tzelaphchad exhibited chibat haaretz, not ahavat haaretz. As Rabbi Scheinerman notes, when we appreciate the importance of something, it takes on value. Bnot Tzelaphchad appreciated the value of Eretz Yisroel and the mitzvoth associated with it. One of the reasons Yerushalayim was destroyed, continues Rabbi Scheinerman, was because we didn't appreciate the value of Eretz Yisroel.
When one truly loves something, one wants to have a personal stake and ownership in it, writes Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l. That's why Bnot Tzelafchad would not be content to just enter the land and have access to it. That's why we are each commanded to write our personal Sefer Torah, and why it's important to own one's seforim, not always borrowing them. Rabbetzin Smiles comments that she has a true "living room", for it is filled with seforim of the "Living Torah".
If this is the case, asks Rabbi Feinstein zt'l, and Bnot Tzelafchad cherished the Land so highly, why does the Torah find it necessary to link this love to their ancestor Yoseph? Here Rabbi Feinstein zt'l makes an interesting distinction in the sense of accomplishment one achieves when he does something under his own initiative and when he is trying to emulate someone else. When one does something on his own, he is proud of his achievement. However, when he is performing the action for someone else, merely doing the action is expected. Only keeping himself to a higher standard is worthy of a sense of accomplishment. Bnot Tzelafchad were holding themselves to the standard demonstrated by their ancestor Yoseph, and that's why the Torah specifically traces their lineage back to him.
So, was the land divided according to the families and number of men leaving Egypt, or was it being divided according to the current census? Rav Dovid Hofstedter tries to unravel this conundrum by incorporating some of our previous ideas. It is true that that the original generation leaving Egypt were destined to inherit the land. But Hashem wants people to merit rewards through their own efforts. Just as all Israel has a portion in the World to Come, that portion remains in potential until the person earns his portion through his actions. But his mitzvah performance additionally brings merit to the neshamot of his deceased parents. Similarly, the current generation were the ones who would be putting in the effort to capture the land and settle it. Their effort earned them the right to inherit the land. Nevertheless, their actions also reflect back to their parents who have now "inherited" their portion of Eretz Yisroel through their children.
This, however, presented a problem for Bnot Tzelafchad. They were not men and would therefore not merit be inheriting the land through being soldiers in battle. They needed a merit of their own. They fought for their right to the land verbally, through prayer and through their challenging (albeit respectfully) Moshe with their question. Through their effort and prayer, they changed the decree and merited inheriting their father's portion in the land.
We all need to make ourselves worthy of receiving Hashem's blessings. We must expend our efforts and create "vessels" for these blessings, continues Rabbi Hofstedter. Tanach records a striking example of this thesis. The poor wife of Ovadiah gathered as many jugs as she could find and borrow that could be filled with oil. Elisha kept pouring the oil from its small, limited jug until all the jars were filled. When no jugs remained to be filled, the blessing of the oil ceased.
The three weeks which are now upon us is a time of teshuvah, a time to make ourselves proper vessels to receive Hashem's blessings. How can we ponder perpetuity? How can we draw upon the legacy of our ancestors and work to ensure that that legacy gets transmitted to our future generations? This chapter of the Daughters of Tzelafchad helps us appreciate our legacy and understand our responsibility.