Seeing Through Another’s Eyes
The July 20th Detroit Jewish News column by Rabbi Michael Moskowitz about the weekly parsha from Numbers, concerned the daughters of Zelophehad. And it made me think about strong women and different perspectives. It also made me think about the law and our Constitution, but that’s the subject for another column note!
Let’s start with the daughters of Zelophehad. These five famous daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, are unique in the Bible for many reasons. One is, we know their names! Think of the many instances of significant women who remain nameless in the Bible – Pharoah’s daughter, Lot’s wife, Noah’s wife – these women are described by their relationship to men, not their names.
But Zelopohehad’s daughters, all five, are named not once but twice.
In this parsha, a census is being taken of the second generation of Israelites after the Exodus – the generation that will enter the promised land. This census is being taken to determine how land in the promised land will be allocated. As with the previous census, only men over the age of twenty are counted. Women and children were not considered significant, according to one commentary, because they could not go to war.
Zelophehad, who died in the wilderness, had no sons, but five daughters – in a time when the role of daughters and women was clearly defined, and daughters could not inherit property. Despite this, feeling the injustice of the existing law, these brave women did not accept their fate. They approached Moses, the priest Eleazar and the chieftains, and, in front of the whole assembly, clearly and with determination, state their position and their request.
The second reason they are unique is, their speech to Moses and the elders is recorded in precise detail, and this at a time when women and children were not considered significant enough to be counted! Their request is basically, that inheritance law be changed to allow daughters to inherit if there are no sons.
Moses, unable or unwilling to make such a drastic change on his own authority, asks God, who replies that these women speak the truth and God changes the law. “If a man dies and has no son, his inheritance shall pass directly to his daughter.” God changed the law due to the validity and justice of a conflicting view.
In his article, Rabbi Moskowitz points out that Rashi offers a wonderful insight. In referring to the daughters of Zelophehad, he says, “their eyes saw what the eyes of Moses did not.” Their perspective was one he hadn’t considered.
It’s so easy in these very divisive times to close our minds to different perspectives. We often surround ourselves with like-minded people, which is natural and not bad, in and of itself. But we need to remind ourselves that different perspectives can lead to different and sometimes deeper insights and understanding.
Hadassah itself is a big tent with many strong women, with strong and sometimes differing opinions. Let’s try to always approach each other with open minds and really hear what each other are saying.