I have a personal confession to make. Pinchas is my bar mitzvah portion, and so I have a special connection with the Parshah in general. But more than that. My father taught me for my bar mitzvah, and seeing that it was an extremely long Parshah and that there was a chance that I would not complete learning the reading for the whole Parshah took a rather unconventional approach. We started learning from the end, and worked towards the beginning, with the idea being that I would start from wherever I would get to.
Well, I made it to the opening of the fourth Aliyah, that opens with the words, “It is correct what the daughters of Tzelofhad have said.” So I got up to read the first time from the Torah with those words, and thus, I have a special affinity for that story.
The land of Israel is being divided as the people are about the end the long sojourn in desert and enter the new stage of national life in the Promised Land. We are told not only of how it is to be divided in practice, but also the criteria for division. The sons of those who entered Egypt will each receive a portion, but the portion will only be allocated to men and not to women.
Tzelofhad had died before this dividing of the land was set into place and he had only fathered daughters, thus his section of the Land was in danger of leaving the hands of his descendants and being given to others. Therefore his daughters approached Moshe claiming that they had a right to the land and a special dispensation should be approved to allow them a portion of the land despite them only being sisters and having no brothers.
God Himself agreed to their claim and they were indeed given a portion of the Land of Israel.
This portion ahs great halachic significance, and can be read numerous ways. We can see these five daughters as staunch feminists staking a claim in an all-male world. But I believe that there is an important message here for both men and women.
This event took place in Arvot Moav, the last station of camp before the Children of Israel entered the Land of Israel. In this same site 24000 Jews lost their lives after pursuing the idolatrous worship of Baal Peor. The daughters of Tzelofhad come not only to promote their own familial interests but to enhance the connection with God and with the Land of Israel. They could easily have accepted their situation and lost touch with the physical land. But they chose the strengthen the connection. Their strong desire to connect with the Land and to do all that they could to leave the desert and enter the Land of Israel is what God recognizes in awarding them a section of land to continue their name and claim.
Too many times people exempt themselves from serving God and doing mitzvot with legitimate claims. They do not wear a four cornered garment and thus do not need to tie tzitzit, they do not own land and therefore cannot keep the mitzvot connected with the land, they conveniently do not see the poor person and thus cannot give him money.
However, the daughters of Tzelofhad teach us that we need to seek to fulfill God’s will even when we are exempt.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explained this is the meaning of the berachah that we say at the brit, “May he enter Torah, chuppah and good deeds.” This appears to be superfluous, are not good deeds part of Torah? He answered that one can learn Torah to teach him how to get out of doing mitzvot. Thus we bless the child that not only will he learn Torah, but he will use his Torah knowledge to push him to do more good deeds. In order that we will all emulate the example of Tzelofhad’s daughters.