מטות–מסעי

The final two parshiyot (portions) of Bamidbar/Numbers detail all the wandering the Israelites did during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, followed by a number of discussions about territorial allotment in Cana’an. The last of these episodes is a less well-known discussion following up on the legal reform won by the daughters of Zelophechad.  The text relates:

“And the heads of the family of the son of Gil’ad the son of Machir the son of Mennashe from the family of Joseph approached and spoke before Moshe, the princes, and the leaders of the children of Israel.  And they said: Hashem commanded our master [Moshe] to give the land by lottery to the Israelites, and our master was commanded by Hashem to give the portion of Zelophechad our brother to his daughters.  They will be to one of our brethren as wives, and their portion will diminish from our ancestral portion, and will be added to the ancestral portion of that tribe [that they marry in to] and our lot will be diminished…Moshe commanded the Israelites by the word of Hashem saying…As is fitting in the eyes of [the daughters of Zelophechad] they will be as wives – but only [to men] within their tribe can they be as wives.  And ancestral portions will not be re-directed from tribe to tribe, because each person within their own tribe shall stick.  And every inheriting daughter from the Israelites will be as a wife to one of her tribesmen so that all Israelites will inherit their ancestral portions” (36:1-8, translation mine)

It is clear from the worry that the tribe of Mennashe brings that, while striking in its finality, Hashem’s command that daughters can henceforth inherit was not the end of the matter.  This new legal reality must be eased in to the surrounding laws of inheritance as equitably as possible.  I see this continuation of the legal narrative of inheritance as a thoughtful balancing of the various concerns introduced by the divine decree, though I admit that it can also be seen as limiting a daughter’s freedom by restricting her to finding a husband from her own tribe, just as her status has been expanded into that of legal inheritor.

Legal reforms

Hard won; incremental

Still pave the way…

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