Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Numbers 33:1-35:13

The Book of Numbers concludes with the division of the Promised Land among the twelve tribes, as we saw in the previous parashah mattot. The key concept in that portion was the allotment of land on both sides of the Jordan--the Western portion having been chose by Reuben and Gad and later joined with the half-tribe of Manasseh. This arrangement provided a sense of community, since these tribes promised not to forsake their brothers should a defensive posture arise. This week’s portion continues the idea of community as well as the concept of inheritance, which is a major concern for all Israel.
A rather difficult situation arises, never before encountered in the short history of the Israelites (as a community). One of the descendants of Manasseh, Zelophehad, had not sons through which his allotment could be passed. Under normal Hebrew rules of inheritance, only males could partake of this blessing, either brother or husband, in this case. The daughter, rightly so, were concerned that the inheritance allotted their tribe would be lost and they be left without a share in Israel if they married outside their tribe. This was not a theoretical issue--these women were righteous and wise, according to the Talmud, and were sought after as suitable mates, all from outside their own tribe. But, if they married outside their tribe, as apportioned by God, they would relinquish their portion to another, against the desires and commands of the Lord. The following is the solution, proposed by Moses, through the word of the Lord:
6 This is what the LORD has commanded concerning Zelophehad's daughters: They may marry anyone they like provided they marry within a clan of their ancestral tribe. 7 An inheritance belonging to the Israelites must not transfer from tribe to tribe, because each of the Israelites is to retain the inheritance of his ancestral tribe. 8 Any daughter who possesses an inheritance from an Israelite tribe must marry someone from the clan of her ancestral tribe, so that each of the Israelites will possess the inheritance of his fathers. 9 No inheritance is to transfer from one tribe to another, because each of the Israelite tribes is to retain its inheritance."  10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the LORD commanded Moses. 11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, married cousins on their father's side. 12 They married [men] from the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained within the tribe of their father's clan.
The Book of Numbers thus concludes on a happy note. The TORAH finds a way to reconcile the legitimate desires of the individual and the Community’s need for stability, a reconciliation that seems to have eluded us in modern times. Even though the Book of Numbers contains several episodes of rebellion against God, it ends with an account of faithful submission. For us, today, community requires both a feminine and a masculine perspective to keep the community intact, whether a local assembly or an entire nation. We should all seek the best from both, under the guidance of the ruach hakodesh, to strengthen our communities.

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