Numbers 25:10 – 30:1We Are All Zelophechad’s Children
Disclaimer: I originally published these Torah Reflections a year ago. However, as we applaud this week’s decision by the Supreme Court regarding the unconstitutionality of the DOMA, I felt it appropriate to post it again. The court’s decision had to happen the week of this Torah portion…. of course!
One of the most powerful stories in Torah appears in the middle of this week’s portion: the story of Zelophechad’s daughters. It is powerful at many levels. First and foremost, the heroes are all women, which, knowing the patriarchal character of Torah is in and of itself remarkable. Second, these women stand on the principles of justice and civil rights to see the overturning by God Himself of a long-established set of laws. This is a radical shift. Up to this point the biblical mandate was that property is passed down from father to son. Zelophechad’s five daughters, at the time when Moses performed a census to apportion the Promised Land among the tribes, challenged this many generations-old law.
The daughters of Zelophechad… came forward… They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, “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 kinsmen!” Moses brought their case before the Eternal. And the Eternal One said to Moses, “The plea of Zelophechad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelites people as follows: ‘If a householder dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter….'” [Num. 27:1-11]
These five women stood against the laws of the Bible because these laws were discriminatory. Moses, the law maker par excellence, could not adjudicate on the matter, but was humble enough to know that the answer to Zelophechad’s daugthers’ challenge couldn’t come from his ego consciousness. He had to turn to God to render the appropriate judgment. He had to turn to the Divine within, open his mind and heart to his Higher Self and be available to hear from that place what Truth was awakening. What he heard was the Divine voice standing by the side of the disregarded, the aggrieved, the deprived and the dispossessed. Zelophechad’s daughters were heroes in Torah who stood for women’s civil rights not unlike the suffragettes a century ago, or the leaders of the Feminist Movement in the past 50 years. Many of them have and continue to challenge the discriminatory rule of those who, flaunting the Bible, would oppose women’s rights.
In our days, Marriage Equality has become the major Civil Right issue; our issue. Like Zelophechad’s daughters, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are standing before the “priests” and the “chieftains” of the Supreme Court, in Congress and the White House, and before us — the whole assembly of the American people — and on the principles of justice and civil rights are challenging the rule of our land. Some, in their fearful vehement opposition to same-sex marriage, are brandishing the Bible again and selectively quoting from it the passages — often mistranslated — that are reflecting their already made-up minds. Their fear, in truth, stems from their facing in this issue a deep crisis of meaning in their core religious beliefs.
We, as members of spiritual and religious communities, have a responsibility to speak out and let our fellow citizens know that Torah can also be used as a force for justice, understanding, love and inclusiveness; and — while acknowledging their perspective — offer an alternative to the voices of rejection, exclusion and condemnation pronounced in the name of the Bible. We, perhaps, have to be a little more like Moses; distrusting the voice of ego and turning to our inner Higher Self for guidance. Higher consciousness, we find, is always more inclusive, more tolerant and embracing. Sourcing the Wisdom at the center of our being, we stand alongside our gay and lesbian compatriots, to ensure these discriminatory laws are revoked once and for all; because, after all, we are all Zelophechad’s children.