Daughters of Zelophehad

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad …. of the families of Manasseh, the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar, the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, saying: “Our father died in the desert, …. and he had no sons. Why should our father’s name be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.” (Numbers 27:1-4)

In the Torah portion that was read last Shabbat in the Diaspora, Phineas (Pinchas), we read the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad who brought the claim for inheritance in the Holy Land to Moses and Eliezer, the High Priest. While I read and hear this story every year, this time it was different. When reading about these five daughters, it reminded me of five fundamental forces.

Today, we know of four fundamental forces—the strong (nuclear) force, the weak force (or beta decay), the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. However, theoretical physicists hypothesized that there is another fundamental force, the fifth forces, dabbed quintessence.  I previously wrote about those forces in my posts, “The Fifth Force,” “The Fifth Force – Epilog,” and “Unified Field Theory and the Dew of Resurrection.”

In the Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah, all Biblical characters are viewed as archetypal representations of some spiritual constructs. Thus, we find in the teachings of the great kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, the “Arizal” (1534-1572) that the five daughters of Zelophehad represent five states of Gevurah. For those, unfamiliar with Kabbalistic terminology, Gevurah is one of ten Sephirot—ten Divine emanations—ten lights that are the building blocks of all spiritual and physical worlds. Specifically, the Sephirah of Gevurah, represents the Divine emanation of harsh judgment, the strict unmitigated law. Thus, it is this Divine emanation corresponding to the Sephirah of Gevurah that is behind the laws of nature. Indeed, the Divine Name corresponding to Gevurah is Elokim, whose numerical value (gematriah) is equal to the word hateva – “the nature.” Furthermore, the Hebrew word gevurah literally means “strength” or “force.” There you have it—five daughters, representing five states of Gevurah, are hinting at five forces.

Interestingly, the analogy runs even deeper. If you pay careful attention to the names of these five daughters, you immediately notice an asymmetry. Here are the names, verbatim from the verse:

Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah”

You will notice that the last three names all have conjunction “and” before the name connecting them together, as it were, whereas the first two names are missing the conjunction “and” and remain unconnected. It seems as the three of the five daughters are unified together, but two remain separate awaiting their unification with their sisters. What is the significance of that?

According to the Arizal, the five states of Gevurah undergo a rectification process called in Kabbalah the “sweetening of the judgment,” i.e., they are “sweetened” by the Sephirah of Chesed that is the Divine emanation of loving-kindness. Five states of strict judgment are sweetened by the Divine attribute of loving-kindness. (Interestingly, in the medieval English Common Law adopted by the United States, there are two judicial systems – the courts of law and the courts of equity. If a claimant felt that strict law according to which her claim was adjudicated in the court of law was not fair, she could appeal to the court of equity, which was able to take equitable considerations of fairness into account. In the US, these two systems have now merged into one.) Loving-kindness of Chesed mitigates strict judgment of Gevurah.

Rabbi Chaim Vital (1542-1620), the principal student of Arizal who recorded his teachings, writes in Shaar HaPesukim and in Likutei Torah, parshat Pinchas, that only three of the daughters of Zelophehad were “sweetened.” These are indeed the three daughters that unified trough the conjunction “and” in front of their names. Simply speaking, this means that only three daughters had a mentality that was fully matured. (This is was confused Moses who did not know how to decide their case and brought it before God. Nevertheless, all five were deemed by God just in their demand for the inheritance in the Holy Land.)

Similarly, out of the five fundamental forces, only three are unified today—the electromagnetic force, the strong force, and the weak force are all described by the Standard Model. The three forces are “sweetened,” as it were, and two—gravitational force and yet-to-be-found quintessence—remain to be “sweetened,” i.e., unified in the Grand Unification Theory (GUT), the holy grail of theoretical physics.

To summarize, five daughters in this story represent five states of Gevurah. The word gevurah literally means “strength” or “force,” thereby linking five daughters to five fundamental forces. Three of the daughters are unified as indicated by the conjunction “and” in front of their name. Similarly, only three fundamental forces are unified in the standard model. All daughters of Zelophehad are rectified and “unified” upon entering the Holy Land and receiving their portion of the land. Similarly, I see the unification of the fundamental forces as part of the messianic redemption and return of the exiles to the Holy Land. May it happen immediately!

Originally published on QuantumTorah.com.

About the Author
Dr. Alexander Poltorak is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In the past, he served as Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Globe Institute for Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.
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