Daughters of Tzlafchad

Tzlafchad. That is one long name. A real mouthful. But what’s more interesting are his daughters, and what we can learn from their ancient petition to Moshe.

Here’s what they asked Moshe (Numbers 27:3-4):

Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.

So Moshe brings their case to God, and God says to Moshe that they should be allowed to possess their father’s land.

Torah of the Mothers

A while back I reviewed an essay in a book called Torah of the Mothers. One of the essays in this book, written by Sarah Idit (Susan) Schneider, discusses “The Daughters of Tzlafchad: Toward a New Methodology of Attitude Around Women’s Issues”. I can’t share the entire essay with you; for that, you will need to read the book yourself. However, I can relate to you some of the highlights of the essay, especially the ones I found compelling.

Why is it that women look to the example of the daughters of Tzlafchad? Sarah Schneider suggests they got their timing correct (they asked Moshe at the right time), and they asked in a respectful manner. She quotes Bava Batra 119b as a source for these attributes of their petition, and she further states that they trusted in God.

But it is not just the daughters of Tzlafchad that got something right here. Moshe, too, showed his exemplary behavior as their leader, in that he had empathy for their dilemma. He respected their love of the land, and so he prayed for a favorable verdict. Sarah Schneider writes:

The Torah is teaching a powerful lesson to the Rabbis of today. If they are to imitate Moshe (which they must strive to do) then they must find a place of deep and authentic compassion for the women who approach them with halakhic petitions. Their empathy should be so compelling that it moves them to prayer.

To me, as I review Sarah’s essay, I find the key here is the connection, the relationship. The Daughters of Tzlafchad had a certain basic trust in Moshe, and he had an understanding, an empathy for their needs. It is important to show respect for a leader; at the same time, for someone to be a true leader, the person needs to be a true listener.

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9 thoughts on “Daughters of Tzlafchad

  • Moshe didn’t give the psak; he asked G-d to give it. That’s an important issue. Did he want to make it clear that the daughters’ rights were G-d given?

    I don’t think the name Tzlofchad shows up any place else. Could it be “tzel” “lo” “pachad” ?
    Not even a shadow of fear.

    My great-grandfather named his fifth daughter (out of 6-my grandmother was 2nd) Milka, the name of one of Tzlofchad’s daughters. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but my kishkes tell me there is.

  • Did he want to make it clear that the daughters’ rights were G-d given? Yes, I think he did, though I am not sure what point you are making. Does this relate at all to what Sarah Schneider said about this teaching us how rabbis can relate to women today? Or do you think her analogy doesn’t work? Or something else?

    Milka is a nice name, as is Noa and Tirzah. The other names, Haglah and Mahlah, are kind of ugly sounding.

  • I don’t think she makes sense, because Moshe, the rabbi, just asked G-d. Unless I didn’t read carefully, she didn’t put too much importance in it, if any. I think it’s extremely important.

  • OK, Batya, I think I understand your point. I’ll go back and read her essay to see if she addresses this. Thanks for reading. I think I’m going to have look at her sources, which are in the Talmud. May take me a while… (as it is, I’ve been mulling over this topic for about a month now).

  • What a great discussion guys. I think both points are valid. Moshe did go to G-d to get the psak. But he was the only one who could do that, at least Panim-el-panim. So our Rabbi’s are the ones who hand down these “verdicts”. What a huge responsibility for them. Sometimes answers are clear, but many, many times they are not. These Rabbis must be respectful and compassionate in their responses. In my very humble opinion the Torah wasn’t given for us to suffer, but sometimes Rabbis feel that they have to be as stringent as possible….

  • I also read a very interesting essay about the daughters of Tzlafchad by a French woman scholar but I need to read it again to make sure I don’t distort what she said.
    I seem to remember, however, that she said that if if things were not said in the Torah in the first place, people could still challenge them as long as they did it within a certain framework. After all the daughters did as everybody else, they went up to Moshe.
    My mom is reading the book, hopefully she has finished it and I’ll get it back tomorrow.

  • I look forward to reading it, Ilana-Davita.
    Baila, thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    I might add some of the quotes from the Gemara that support Sarah Schneider’s essay.

  • A bit off topic here, but-
    Moshe has always seemed to me to be a man who respected others regardless of their gender or ethnicity. For example, he demonstrated a lot of compassion for his sister Miriam, praying desperately for her when she was stricken with a disease after speaking ill of Moshe and his wife. Also, Moshe married a non-Jewish black woman, and showed enormous respect for her father Yitro. Maybe his acceptance of differences in others was a result of having been raised in the Egyptian palace, where he himself was different, and where he probably met visitors who came to Egypt from all over the world.

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