Donald is with IfNotNow Philly.
In Parshat Pinchas, the plague that descended on the ungrateful generation and besmirched the good land has finally ended. The deaths from the fire and quake from Korach’s Rebellion, the swarm of snakes, and all that which had required Aaron the Priest to stand between death and the people, has subsided. Those left behind would be apportioned their inheritance, the land of Israel.
The daughters of Zelophehad protest, “Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against the Lord in Korach’s assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers.” The daughters had lost their father, and according to the customs of the time, women received no inheritance. Thus, there was no land left for them. Moses takes the women’s case to G-d, who declares that they “spoke justly”, and hence the laws of inheritance for women enter the Torah.
Now, Rashi asks in his commentary on Bamidbar, “Why does the Torah need to mention the name of their father? For surely, the most important fact is that he died due to his own sins, and not the sin against the good land, not his name, or status, or clan?” Rashi remarks that Zelophehad signifies the name Joseph, the Hebrew Patriarch that loved the land of Israel so much that he made his sons promise to return his bones from Egypt when they finally returned to the land. These daughters, Rashi continues, spoke justly to defend themselves out of a love of the land itself.
IfNotNow might ask, what does this all mean for us? What is the relationship between justice and the love of home, whatever that land might be, speaking out against established customs, and advocating for oneself and what is right at the same time? How do we bring this Torah to our work in fighting to end our community’s support for the occupation of this very land?
Jews who work hard to fight the occupation, to end our community’s involvement and support in it, are often told they are enemies of Israel, enemies of our community, and to be blunt, bad Jews. Likewise, there are those who say that to come to this struggle as Jews is to ignore our common humanity, or even to engage in a form of liberal ethnocentrism. Why must we address this issue of injustice as Jews? Is not being human enough?
Zelophehad’s daughters, rooted in Joseph’s deep love of home, spoke out in the name of all women who suffered from the injustice of patrilineal inheritance, from the pain and recognition that they themselves were being done wrong in this injustice. Likewise, when we challenge the occupation, rooted in the love of Jewish people and the universal values of dignity and justice, we advocate both for Palestinian people who suffer from the daily hell of Israeli occupation, and for ourselves as American Jews, whose heritage has become bound up in this moral and spiritual calamity.
The passage that follows the one discussed above focuses on leadership, as Moses must pass on his authority to another. Moses asks that his successor will be one “who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Moses is looking for an individual who will “go forth before them”: when the community is unwilling to go out and do what’s right, a leader will go out and do it and model it for them. They will call out for justice, before the people. A leader will “lead them out and bring them in.” Leaders are individuals who bring the people with them and gather them inward: they have a deep love of their home, of their community, of the people. When we, as American Jews, fight to end our community’s support for the occupation, we exhibit these qualities. We are doing something that is just, that is good for own sake, and that is profoundly rooted in Torah and Judaism.
May our inheritance be an end to the occupation and the birth of a vibrant Judaism without a guilty conscience. May we be the leaders Moses prayed for; and when we’re challenged for not being Good Jews, for not being good leftists, may we respond that this, too, is Torah.