Sunday, July 8, 2012

Champions of Women's Rights

In Parashat Pinchas we read about 5 brave women of ancient days. They are known as the Daughters of Zelophachad. The Daughters of Zelophachad have come to stand for women throughout the generations who have fought for women's rights; as they dramatically succeeded in transforming the laws of inheritance, to enable daughters to inherit in the absence of male heirs. But the sages of the Talmud do not refer to them as champions of equality; they are rather called "wise women, expounding women, righteous women" These women recognized an injustice in their community, and brought it to the attention of the leadership. They argued about the laws of inheritance. 
When land was allocated and divided up, it was given to each man for his family, and then, the land could only be inherited by his sons. But, Zelophachad, a son of Joseph, had no sons.  His 5 daughters wanted to ensure that they received a share of the land in their father’s name. What courage! They say: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no sons!” They weren’t necessarily focusing on an injustice being perpetrated against them, but rather on an injustice being done to their dead father.
 We all want to live our legacy through the children we leave behind, or the students we have influenced. In the words of our sages: "'And you shall teach Torah to your children,' which refers to your students, who are considered like your children." Those whom we have taught or touched, who carry forward the values and lifestyle by which we lived, are our continuation into the future. The Daughters of Zelophachad made a great stride forward on behalf of women's rights by receiving their father's patrimony. But their motivation was to secure their father's eternity, to see to it that his name not be blotted out in the building of Jewish eternity, or in his ability to give over both his traditions and his portion to his daughters. This is how the Rabbis of the Talmud understood it when they praised the Daughters of Zelophachad for being wise, learned and righteous.
So we can gain important insight from these 5 strong women who had the courage to voice their concerns and bring light to an inherent injustice in the law and in their lives. May they be a shining example to us all to challenge injustice wherever we see. They created legal change, which affected future generations of women.  They wanted each Israelite to be seen as an individual and have their ideas respected.  Moses wanted to be sure that the next leader of the Israelite Community would listen to the voices of the people, so before entering the Promised Land, the People were given a leader who was a guide, a source of support, and a good listener.

 Think of the people in your lives, who meet you where you are and see you as an individual. Think of all the countless Men and Women that have the courage to speak out, stand strong, and find listening ears.

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