Recently, I had the good fortune to spend six weeks in Israel, visiting two of my sons and their families, and welcoming a new grandson. My long stay reminded me of our connection to Eretz Yisrael, and because of that I want to post a favorite Derech Tsofeh of mine for this week’s parasha from a few years ago.
This week’s parasha, Pinchas, includes a favorite episode of mine from the wanderings in the Wilderness.
As the Children of Israel prepare to enter the Land that God has promised to their ancestors, God has Moses and Elazar the Kohen take a census, and gives instructions for determining how to divide the Land. Within each tribe, the Land shall be divided among the men who are 20 years old and older, by lot.
The daughters of Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, came to Moses and Elazar and explained their father died in the Wilderness and had no sons. They ask why the name of their father should be omitted because he had no sons. Moses asks God, and learns the daughters are to be given a possession in Israel.
The first lesson I find in this parasha is about the love of the Land of Israel. In describing the census, the Torah states “And of these, there was no man of those counted by Moses and Aaron the Kohen, who counted the Children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai.” This was the census taken almost 40 years earlier, after the evil report of the Meraglim (Spies) about what they found in the Land, that resulted in the people crying they wanted to return to Egypt. Their complaining was answered by God decreeing none of them would see the Land except Caleb and Joshua, who gave a true report. Rashi (commentary to Numbers 26:64) explains that it was only the men who wanted to return to Egypt, and that the women said “Give us a possession” in the Land of Israel. Because of their love of the Land, the women were not prohibited from entering the Land.
The other lesson I learn is the proper way to look at the opportunity to perform amitzvah. Because of their love of the Land, the daughters of Zelophehad ask why should the name of their father be omitted (yigarah) because he had no sons? Rashi (commentary to Numbers 27:1) points out that the daughters were righteous (they were fifth-generation granddaughters of Joseph, who also loved the Land), and thus wanted a share of the Land not out of greed, but because they held the Land as precious.
Something similar happened in Parasha Behalotacha, where men who had become ritually unclean by attending to a dead person were not allowed to make the Passover offering. They asked, “Why should we be diminished (nigarah) by not making God’s offering?”
These words from the same root garah show that all of these people felt left out or diminished by not being able to perform a mitzvah. The mitzvot are opportunities to connect to the holy; not using them leaves us out of something very important. So, when you have the chance to do a mitzvah, don’t be left out!