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Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

“Among these shall the land be apportioned as shares, according to the listed names.”

(Numbers 26:53)

The final eleven chapters of Numbers focus on the conquest and division of Canaan, the Promised Land. In Parashat Pinchas, the five daughters of Zelaph’chad come to Moses with a request:  since they are their father’s only heirs, they would like to inherit his portion in Canaan so that, “his name will not be lost to his clan” (Numbers 27:4). Moses brings their case before God, who responds by amending the laws of inheritance to include women. This law was not in the original revelation at Mt. Sinai, according to Sifrei (a commentary on the book of Numbers).

The midrash (the body of rabbinic interpretations of the Bible) states that Moses brought the case to God not because he did not know the law, but because he did not trust himself to rule impartially, since the daughters reminded him that their father, “…was not of the faction, Korach’s faction, which banded against the Lord…” (Numbers 27:3). Moses understood that conflicts of interest undermine any system of justice.

Ellen Frankel (editor-in-chief (1991-2009) and former CEO of The Jewish Publication Society) observes that in creating a new law, God demonstrates the flexibility of halacha (Jewish law) in response to an issue of social justice.   Whether or not halacha should be flexible continues to be debated in our own time.   The JCC plays an important role in this discourse:  the Jewish community’s “public square,” where Jews of different opinions and practices can meet, discuss,  and disagree about this issue, without feeling estranged from one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

David

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