Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–PInchas
Ok, some of you are going to immediately dismiss this commentary as a cheap attempt to use Torah to promote a political agenda. It is not so intended, but I wanted to acknowledge the matter, right up front. This week, Torah and history align. Whatever your politics and despite the violence filling the world’s news, we are living through historic times of messianic magnitude. A Black man is sitting in the Whitehouse endorsing a White woman to succeed him. Eight years ago, the United States of America elected an African-American to serve as President. No, it did not end rampant racism. You may think he was a great President. You may think he was horrific in the office. Regardless, despite the very real racial divide in this country, Mr. Obama was not only elected, but then re-elected.
Tonight, a woman will accept the honor of being a major party’s nominee for the Presidency. Like her or hate her … a woman is the nominee of a major party. There have been women nominated by minor parties. There have been women nominated for the Vice-Presidency. Even if Hillary Clinton loses the general election, the glass ceiling is shattered. If she wins, we will join the great many nations who have already tread this ground. For, as advanced as we want to believe that we are, we are centuries behind Europe and the Middle and the Far East in political gender egalitarianism. On the right and the left, people yearn for equal rights and responsibilities. In this election, the significance of a woman’s nomination for President is over-shadowed by the “all too easy” hatred and disdain that people on both sides exhibit towards each other. Ultimately, as a nation of voters, we picked sides and polarized over right or left wing agenda based news. We have glommed on to some opinions and ignored others. We need to stop and revel in our new reality. Win or lose, what no one can ignore, though, is that the boundaries to our American political world are no longer white and no longer male. Funny thing … this week, Torah broke the glass ceiling holding women back.
The early Torah teaches that inheritance rights vest in men. If read literally (which we know one is not supposed to read Torah literally), then all power and ownership vests in men. Now, grammatically, this is not necessarily true, but tradition teaches that these are male things. Leadership and ownership pass through men to men. This truth is set in stone … until this week. Tzelofechad of the Manassite tribe dies. Rabbinic literature is not of one voice speaking of his righteousness, but his death provides us with a unique problem to solve. He has five daughters and zero sons. As the tribe begins to divide his estate amongst the rest of the tribal men, the daughters approach Moses, “Why should the name of our father be lost among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among the brothers of our father (Num 27:4).” This suggestion was heretical. They understood that Dad’s name would be erased if his estate dissipated. The rabbis (Sifre) taught that “Their eyes saw that which Moses’ eyes did not see.” Moses may have met God face to face, but the ladies had to teach him this lesson which had been beyond his grasp. We know very little about these ladies, but the sages presume them to be righteous. God agreed with Tzelofechad’s daughters and changed the inheritance laws.
Initially, they were required to marry only within the tribe, so that the tribal lands (Dad’s estate was part of the land allotted to Manasseh) would not transfer to another tribe. After the people cross the Jordan River, this rule changes allowing women to inherit freely and to marry whomever they chose. So, Torah mandated gender equality over 3000 years ago. Torah does not tell us what the men thought about Tzelofechad’s daughters, but we can presume that if the matter had to come before God for a decision that it was contentious.
3000 years later, we stand on the precipice of history. We have a lot of work to do still; racism and gender inequality run rampant through much of the academic and business world. The violence that plagues us is horrific. That said, Hillary may or may not win the general election, but I am proud to be a citizen in a country that really does now afford everyone access to leadership. Shabbat Shalom!