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.
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.