Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
The Daughters of Tzelafchad

Tanach Class: The Daughters of Tzelafchad, Part I


This week we began a two-part series on the Daughters of Tzelafchad.

Appearances in Tanach
The daughters of Tzelafchad (named Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah) appear three times in Tanach.

In their initial appearance (Bimidbar 27) they approached Moshe and told him that their father had died in the desert, leaving behind the five daughters and no sons. They wanted to know whether they would inherit, or their father's share - and his family name - would disappear into someone else's portion. Moshe consulted with HaShem, and HaShem said they were correct, and the share should go to them.

In their second appearance (Bimidbar 36) they again approached Moshe, this time to ask what would happen to their land when they married. Ordinarily, children inherit their parents, and the children are identified with their father's tribe. As such, the proprety of Menasheh (their tribe) could end up in another tribe. Moshe responded that their concern was valid, and so they should marry members of their own tribe. He stated this as a law for the entire generation, although we will see later that the law may not have applied to the daughters of Tzelafchad, themselves.

In their third appearance (Yehoshua 17) they approached Yehoshua during the division of Israel, and took their appropriate shares among the tribe of Menasheh.

Meet the Family
When Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah are introduced, their whole family line is listed; they are identified as the "daughters of Tzelafchad, son of Chefer, son of Gilad, son of Machir, son of Menasheh, of the family of Menasheh, son of Joseph." Why does the Torah go to such great lengths to tell us about their lineage?

The Midrash (Bimidbar Rabbah 21:11, Sifri Zuta 27:1) says that this story shows the greatness of these women, and so it shows greatness in their ancestors, Tzelafchad/Chefer/Gilad/Machir/Menasheh. Similarly, Sifri (Bimidbar 133) says that when children follow their parents' ways, the lineage is listed.

The Midrash also reads another message into this verse, by picking up on the special mention of Yosef. Yosef was known for his love of Israel, as he showed when he asked to have his bones brought there. They displayed the same love of Israel.

Birth Order
The Sages picked up on an interesting nuance in the listing of the daughters of Tzelafchad. In Bimidbar 27 they are listed as: Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah. In Bimidbar 36, though, they are listed as Machlah, Tirtzah, Chaglah, Milkah and Noah. Why the switch?

The Gemara (Bava Basra 120a) brings two possibilities:

1. They were all equal
2. The order of wisdom was used in Bimidbar 27 where they asked Moshe an Halachic question, because in learning we follow the order of wisdom, listing the wisest first. The birth order was used in Bimidbar 36, because that was discussing marriage; in celebrations we honor the oldest first.

Their Greatness
The Midrash (Otzar Midrashim pg. 474) lists the daughters of Tzelafchad among the 23 most righteous Jewish women in history. The Midrash also points out (Sifri Zuta 27:1, Sifri Bimidbar 133) similar points.

The Midrash (Sifri Bimidbar 133) also says that they were scholarly; they appear to have been learned women. Bimidbar Rabbah 21:11 says that this is how they knew to speak up exactly when Moshe was learning the laws of inheritance.

As the Gemara (Bava Basra 119b) tells it, their scholarship explains an interesting point in their address to Moshe. They said, regarding their father, "Uvanim Lo Hayu Lo - And he had no sons," and "Ein Lo Ben - he had no son." Why did they repeat this clause? According to the Gemara, they were saying that there were no sons and there were no grandchildren via deceased sons. They knew the law, and so they knew that Tzelafchad's son's children would inherit their father's share.

Our Sages also saw a sign of their righteousness in an interesting bit of biblical chronology. According to the Midrash, Tzelafchad was the wood-chopper who violated Shabbos at the end of Parshas Shelach, in the Jews' 2nd year in the desert. He was put to death - which means, obviously, that Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah were all born by then. In Year 40, they came to Moshe asking what would happen if they married out of their tribe - indicating that they were not yet married. Based on this, the Gemara (Bava Basra 119b, as well as in Bimidbar Rabbah 21:11) says that they were so righteous that they waited 40 years to find hsubands who would be their match. (Sifri Zuta 15:32 actually contends that Tzelafchad could not have been their father, as it cannot be that such great women couldn't find a husband in 40 years.)

Their Love of Israel
As we mentioned above regarding the relationship between the daughters of Tzelafchad and Yosef, the daughters of Tzelafchad displayed great love for Israel.

Rashi points out an interesting biblical juxtaposition. The Torah says (Bimidbar 26:64) that the men of the "Desert Generation" died in the desert, because they did not love Israel. The next section tells of the daughters of Tzelafchad and their request, to show the great difference between them. The men said "_Nitnah_ Rosh veNashuvah Mitzraymah -Let us turn our heads and go back to Egypt," and the women said "_Tenah_ Lanu Achuzah - Give us a share." (For a similar point, see Sifri Bimidbar 133, Sifri Zuta 27:1.) The Midrash (Bimidbar Rabbah 21:10, Tanchuma Pinchas 7) even goes so far as to say this was generally true of that generation - the women were higher than the men. We see this by the Golden Calf, where the men followed it and the women refused to go along with it.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will continue our look at the daughters of Tzelafchad.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Tanach Class: The Daughters of Tzelafchad, Part II


This week we completed our look at the daughters of Tzelafchad, by looking at their attempt to inherit their father's land.

Meeting with Moshe
The account of their meeting with Moshe appears in Bimidbar 27. We are told that they came to Moshe, Elazar the Head Kohen (Aharon had passed on by this time), the heads of each tribe, and the nation. The Talmud says (Bava Basra 119b) that they either went through all of the courts to get up to Moshe (and Moshe is listed first because he is the greatest), or that they came to Moshe when the nation was gathered to learn from him.

The Claim
They told Moshe that their father "had no son," and that their father's name would be lost from among his brethren. The Gemara (Bava Basra 119b; see Tosafos "Eelu" there, for an interesting point) explains that they came with a claim based on the issue of Yibbum, levirate marriage. Under the laws of Yibbum, a widow whose deceased husband had no children can marry the deceased's brother, to maintain the deceased's name with the children from that marriage. The daughters of Tzelafchad said that if they don't count for inheritance, then they shouldn't count as children vis--vis Yibbum; their mother should marry Tzelafchad's brother. The alternative would be that they would count vis--vis Yibbum, and so they should also be able to inherit.

As we pointed out last week, they repeated the fact that their father had no son, to indicate that he had no grandchildren from a deceased son, either (Bava Basra 119b, Sifri Bimidbar 133).

Getting Their Share
Moshe defaulted on the question; we'll see more on this later. Moshe took the question to HaShem, and HaShem responded, "Ken Benos Tzelafchad Dovros," "The daughters of Tzelafchad speak accurately." The Midrash comments, in numerous locations, "Praised is the person who the Master admits is correct!"

The daughters of Tzelafchad actually received four shares:
1. Tzelafchad's regular share, as someone who left Egypt.
2. Tzelafchad's share in the inheritance from his father, Chefer.
3. Tzelafchad's second share in the inheritance from his father, Chefer. Tzelafchad was a first-born, and so he received a double share.
4. Tzelafchad had a brother who died in the desert; they received Tzelafchad's share of that brother's portion.

The daughters of Tzelafchad actually ended up with land on both sides of the Jordan (Bimidbar Rabbah 21:12). Half of the tribe of Menasheh took land on the east of the Jordan, and the other half waited until the Jews crossed the Jordan. The daughters took from both areas.

Their share is hinted at in Yaakov's blessing to Yosef. Yaakov says, "Banos Tzaadah Alei Shur," "The women walked atop the wall." This is usually understood as a reference to women who would stand on the walls to see Yosef when he was on parade in Egypt, but the Midrash (Bimidbar Rabbah 14:6 & 21:11) takes this to mean that they traversed the "wall," meaning the Jordan River, which was like a wall in blocking Moshe and the Desert Generation from entering Israel.

The Daughters of Tzelafchad Get Married
In Bimidbar 36 we find the princes of the tribe complaining to Moshe that if the daughters of Tzelafchad would marry outside their tribe, the tribal land would go to their sons, who would be counted with some other tribe. Moshe declared (for that generation alone - Taanis 30b) that women who inherited land would have to marry within their tribe, or forfeit the land.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 120a) has a problem with this, though, because the Torah also records Moshe saying the daughters of Tzelafchad could marry whoever was "good in their eyes!" The Gemara concludes that the daughters of Tzelafchad were exempt from this rule.

Moshe's Omission?
This leaves us with one problem - why hadn't Moshe said anything about women inheriting, until this point? (For an absolutely eye-popping "feminist" Midrash which I don't have space to expound on in this email, see the beginning of Sifri Bimidbar 133.)

The Sages provide four possible explanations:

1. We try to give merit to those who are meritorious (Sanhedrin 8a). The law would have been recorded eventually, but their love of Israel earned them the right to have it mentioned with their name.

2. Moshe had forgotten this law.
Rashi (Devarim 1:17) says that this was actually a punishment to Moshe, because he instructed the judges of lower courts, "That which is too tough for you, bring to me and I will hear it." This made him appear arrogant. To this HaShem responded, "The daughters of Tzelafchad will know a law that you won't (Midrash Tanchuma Miketz 6)." (See also Otzar Midrashim pg. 407 on the large "Nun" in "Mishpatan.")
This is problematic - the Gemara (Sanhedrin 8a) actually entertained this idea, and rejected it because Moshe explicitly stated he didn't know everything - he said, "bring to me, and I will hear it," meaning he would hear it from HaShem! Nonetheless, this idea does surface as an opinion in a number of Midrashim.

3. The third answer (Bava Basra 119a) is that Moshe knew the women would get a share, but this case had a specific complication - would the daughters of Tzelafchad inherit their father's double share as a first-born son.

4. The fourth answer (Bimidbar Rabbah 21:12) is that all of the courts who heard this case felt that they weren't worthy of handling it, because it involved distribution of land in Israel. As a result, they all kicked it upstairs, and Moshe, in his great humility, did the same.
It is possible that this is what the Midrash (Shir haShirim Rabbah 1:10:3) refers to when it comments (on the juxtaposition of this case with HaShem's statement that Moshe would die there), "Moshe removed himself from handling this case, and so HaShem removed him from the Jewish people, as a whole."

That's it for this week. Next week I am away, but Gd-willing we will pick up in two weeks, with Chafni and Pinchas, the sons of Eli.

Have a good two weeks,
Mordechai Torczyner

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