Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

To Mahlah, Noa, Choglah, Milcah and Tirzah

The Daughters Stand (Image by Leann Shamash)

Parshat Pinchas is named for the zealot Pinchas,  but it is the story of the daughters of Tzelophechad that is a highlight of this parsha, if not in the entire Torah. This story is truly remarkable in a number of ways. First of all, each of the daughters of Tzelophechad are named in the story; which is something that unusual for the women in Torah. The daughters, who have no brothers and no father (nothing is mentioned about their mother) petitioned Moses and the elders of Israel to allow them to inherit land in their father’s name when they enter the land. The text says that the daughters “stood” before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moses brought the case before God and God immediately answered that the Daughters of Tzelophechad were correct and (amazingly!) an amendment was made to the laws of inheritance.

Pinchas is named is named for his zealous, if controversial deed. The father of the sisters is named and his lineage is described. Absent from the text is anything about the mother of the five daughters. We do not know if their mother is alive or dead, or any other fact about her. She remains nameless and identity-less.

In this short piece, I have composed a fictional letter from this nameless mother to her daughters. I have taken the liberty to speak for her, because I wanted her voice to be a part of this story.  In this letter, I have imagined how her daughters learned from her, from their father and members of the fledgling community in order to make their eloquent case before the Moshe and the elders.

* * *

To Each of My Daughters,

My name is not mentioned in the Torah text. Nowhere will you find me, but more importantly, each of you is named in the Book of all Books. Through you and your accomplishments, I am also present in this story. I am there, as are your grandmothers and great grandmothers. We are watching you.

About your names, which we chose so carefully.

Mahlah, our first born, your name is like movement itself, the movement of the wind, the movement of time passing onward.

Noa, Your name is reminiscent of the tiny movements of the leaves in the breeze.

Choglah, your name means to circle, as the moon orbits the earth and the bee circles the flower.

Milcah, my fourth born, your name means to walk, as one walks toward friends, as one walks with purpose.

Tirzah, my youngest, your name, means to run, as the gazelle runs with joy, as the lioness runs, silent and purposeful.

All of you were named for movement. When we chose those names, we never knew how you would grow into the meaning of your names. 

My daughters, you have learned well. You gained wisdom from your father. You gained confidence from observing life around you and from me you have learned the power of standing tall; always moving forward. From each other you have garnered strength and intensity. Together you are a like a powerful wind that prances and moves through the desert.

Mahlah, Noa, Choglah, Milcah and Tirzah, you have made me proud.

You stood.

You were not invisible.

You were not afraid.

You identified a need, worked together, clasped each other’s hands and moved forward, and without wasting one word, you made your case.

My daughters,  my eyes,

my life,

you who have moved worlds, who moved the lawmakers,

who moved  The Holy One,

The Creator of the Law.

I am not physically with you, my daughters, but your victory is mine. Yours is a victory for future daughters and granddaughters and to women, who understand that they should not be afraid to stand tall, to hold their ground.

To make their case clearly and not settle for less.

Always stand tall, my daughters.

Always move forward.

It is true that I am not named in the Book of Books, but if I were, my chosen name would be The Mother of the Daughters Who Stood Strong.

With love,

Your mother

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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