This week’s Torah portion is Phinehas. While the portion addresses various topics, one of those topics talks about the rights of women, and more important, fairness. It would seem that while the #MeToo movement is new, and the Equal Rights Amendment campaign was started a mere 40 years ago, they are barely in their infancy compared to Judaism. Yes, the idea of women’s rights for the Israelites goes back about 3200 years, literally to the time of Moses. And the issue isn’t just about women’s rights, it’s about doing what is right.
In this portion, we see a census, not just of all the tribes, but the clans within those tribes. One of the clans within the tribe of Mannasheh was the family of Tselophahad. This is a man who had only had daughters and died without giving birth to any sons. This presented a problem.
These four women went to Moshe Rabbeinu and entreated him. They said that in this male-dominated real estate system, since property was handed down generation to generation to only the sons, this would mean that their ancestral divinely-granted properly would pass out of their family forever. This would also be the case in any similar situation.
Moshe then goes into his tent and inquires of Hashem. Hashem states that the daughters of Tselophahad speak true. He told Moses that while land would primarily pass to sons, in the event of a man having no sons and only daughters, the latter would then be the heirs. This way, the land would stay in their family or clan.
This would certainly be considered an early victory for the women’s rights movement. But consider that there is also a much larger issue involved. That is “fairness”.
Hashem is a perfect Being. He is omniscient, and as we read in our psalms that are designated for Shabbat, He metes out Devine Justice. So the judgment was based on only that: fairness.
The daughters of Tselophahad approached Moshe and their inquiry was sincere. Their concern was only for getting what they felt should be theirs based on the underlying principle of the system, that property should be passed down generation to generation remaining in the family or clan. Since Hashem recognized the logic of their concern and accepted the sincerity of their request, He granted it in the way of a brand, new commandment.
Consider then, the basis of the decision. There was no pre-conceived notions about the place of women or whether women should get power or be equal to men. I was about one thing and one thing only, what is the right thing to do under the circumstances, devoid of any other characteristics.
As we, ourselves, go through life, it’s important that we approach life in this same way. In our interactions with others, how many times does ego get in the way? How many times do we consider a decision not just on the merits of the consequences, but also the impact it may have on our own esteem?
There was never any thought about how that decision may emasculate men, which, by the way, it wouldn’t. But maybe human males might think that if women were able to inherit property, next is being a Kohen or a Kohen Gadol and then what do we do? Interestingly enough, these days women are becoming more prominent in the religious management of synagogues by becoming rabbis and cantors. Many men might feel threatened.
Yet, if a woman can do a better job, given the same circumstances, why not let her take that role? For some, the introduction of a woman in the competition poses yet another reason why we may not get what we want. In the case of the daughters of Tselophahad, the land really should stay in the family anyway.
Many times, our insecurities prevent us from being fair as we seek ways to give ourselves an advantage. The obvious path would be to do what we have to do to make sure we are the best and best-suited for that to which we aspire. That may mean working harder and smarter. It may also mean accepting a loss…which may not be a loss at all, but rather a divine intervention that what we seek is not in our best interests.