Parshat Pinchas – A Tikkun for the Spies
This week’s parsha contains the story of Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the daughters of a man named Tzelofchad who had recently passed away. According to the existing laws the women could not inherit any portion of the land when the Jewish people would enter Israel, as their father’s portion could only be passed down to sons.
Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milcah, and Tirzah stepped up to change this. Their desire to be a part of the land was so strong that they petitioned Moshe and presented themselves before Elazar, the kohein gadol, the nesi’im (tribal leaders), and the entire community, at the entrance to the ohel moed, demanding to be allowed to inherit the portion due them in the land of Israel. Moshe took the case directly to God, who agreed with the women’s case. The law was changed based on their actions.
I propose that this chapter in the Biblical narrative is a tikkun, a healing, for the Jewish people for the spiritual damage we caused ourselves in the incident with the spies.
The spies’ negative reporting on the land had doomed their generation to wander in the desert, not being allowed to enter. They had rejected the land and caused the people to reject it, so God decreed that it would reject them in turn. The daughters of Tzelofchad, by contrast, came before the entire assembly of Israelites to stand up for their right to have a portion of the land. It would be years before they would even enter Israel, but their yearning was palpable. Their act was an inspiration that reinvigorated the Jewish people in working toward entering the land. The purpose of Israel would be to reveal God’s presence in the world through mundane life in a holy society. Just as in our theme for this summer, these five women knew that if they sowed with tears, they would harvest with joy.
While the twelve spies seemed unable to internalize that message that it is specifically through our everyday toil and engagement with the world around us where we are instructed to manifest Divinity in the world, the actions of Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milcah, and Tirzah illustrate just the opposite. Two weeks into camp, we learn from these five powerful women the importance of inspiring and being inspired as we work toward building our own holy society. Shabbat Shalom.
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- What do you think inspired Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milcah, and Tirzah to so courageously demand to be a part of the hard work of establishing Israelite society in the land?
- When have you acted with courage and taken on a challenge even though you knew, as these women did, that the payoff would not be seen until the distant future?