This week we will be concluding the book of Numbers with the double portion of Matot-Masei. In a way it is the end of the narrative of Moses’ journeys. This is because almost all of the book of Deuteronomy is really a series of sermons that Moses gave to the Israelites just before they were to enter the land of Canaan without him.
It is curious then that the very last section of Masei wraps up the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. We first learn about Zelophehad in parashat Pinchas. Zelophehad was from the tribe of Menassah who died with having not had any sons. His daughters Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah came before Moses requesting that they be able to inherit his promised share of the land so that his name would not die out. This week Moses completes the story by commanding that Zelophehad’s inheritance goes to his daughters provided they marry within their tribe.
That this is the very last section of Masei only further emphasizes the importance of their story. In some ways, the actions of Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah represent the beginning of an ongoing struggle for equal treatment that we are still fighting for to this very day. The only reason why we even know about the five sisters is because they became their own advocates. It must have been scary for them as they were approaching Moses, the most powerful person in their world for this request, yet they did not let their fear drive them away from what they knew to be right. They fought for something they believed in and they won.
In the words of Rabbi Silvina Cheman,1 “After all, nothing is more sacred than life itself and the fight for what we believe is worthy. Thus, this parashah inspires us to discover that we too have the ability to know what is right for ourselves and what our rights ought to be. When we believe in our capacity to shape our history, to the point of being able to change even a law that came from the Revelation at Sinai, then we pay a tribute to Zelophehad’s daughters.”
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff