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The Daughters of Tzelophchad

by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales


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In one of the Sidrahs of this month, in the Sidrah Pinehas, we read of an unusual event, in which the principal role is played by five sisters. They were the daughters of Tzelophchad, who was the fourth generation descending from Manasseh, Joseph's older son.

Tzelophchad had died in the wilderness, on the way from Egypt, and left no sons, but only five daughters. They must have been very worthy indeed, since they are all mentioned by name: Machlah, No'ah, Choglah, Milkah and Tirzah. Their names are repeated in other places in the Torah, but in a different order, from which our Sages learn that they were all equally wise and equally worthy.

The event which we mentioned before, took place in the fortieth year since the departure from Egypt, the last year of wandering in the desert, before entering the Promised Land. Aaron was no longer among the living, and his place was taken by his son Elazar, who was now the High Priest.

At G-d's command, Moses had declared the manner in which the Promised Land would be divided among the Tribes of Israel, and who was entitled to receive a share in the land. The land was to be divided by a Divine lot among the six-hundred thousand male adults who were liberated from Egypt, or rather their heirs, since, with few exceptions, only their children entered the Promised Land. The men of the Tribe of Levi, who were the priests (Kohanim) and Levites, the spiritual leaders and teachers of the people, were not to receive plots of land, since they were to devote their time to their holy duties; they only received special cities and surrounding fields to dwell in.

The land was to be divided by a Divine lot among the six-hundred thousand male adults who were liberated from Egypt
No doubt, Moses would have received, in due course, the whole law of inheritance, in all details, and the daughters of Tzelophchad would have no reason to make an appearance, and perhaps would not even have been mentioned. But it so happened that they were very worthy and fine Jewish daughters, wise, learned and modest, and G-d wanted them to be mentioned, and to be instrumental in the teaching of the important inheritance law. Thus, our Sages say, that "G-d brings about a good thing through the agency of a good person." And so it happened that the daughters of Tzelophchad not only received special mention in the Torah, but, in addition, a whole portion of the Torah was credited to their good merits.

What happened was this: Tzelophchad had died without sons to inherit his share in the Holy Land. Only the five daughters survived him. So they wanted to know what would happen to their father's share in the land. Would they, his daughters, not receive it, just because they happen to be girls, and not boys?

Now, Tzelophchad was no ordinary man. Our Sages tell us that he was a saintly and G-dfearing man. To make the people fear and love G-d, was Tzeloplichad's greatest desire in life.

The daughters of Tzelophchad were careful to mention that their father was a worthy man; that he took no part in the rebellion of Korah, nor had he been among those who rebelled against G-d, refusing to go on to the Promised Land. "He had died by his own sin," the daughters said, and therefore he had not forfeited his rightful share in the Holy Land.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.