D’var Torah: Parshat Pinchas – The Torah Demands Enlarging the Circle of Inclusion
A classic should be timeless. It should speak to its contemporary generation and for all time. The Torah is the greatest classic of all time. Yes, there are disturbing things in the Torah and yes, some of the stories are outdated through our 21st century lens. Yet I believe that the Torah was a radical revolutionary statement that every individual matters and that we are required to enlarge the circle of inclusion and raise up those who are vulnerable, weak or lack power.
The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is an important reminder of the revolutionary spirit of Judaism. Their names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. In their world, women had almost no power. Because their father died without sons, his portion of land in Israel seemed destined to be lost to his family. The women made a claim to this land. Their claim was so unusual that Moshe had no idea how to proceed. In a great example of leadership, instead of just saying no and using his power to shut them down, Moshe consulted God on the matter. God said that the women were correct and should inherit the land.
It may be easy to condemn the Torah as being sexist and view God’s ruling as limited because it provides daughters with an inheritance only if there are no sons. I believe that if Judaism is to remain the driving force in our lives, we need to examine the principle behind God’s ruling. A marginalized group, in this case women, have rights and a place at the table with everyone else. I draw a straight line from Zeophehad’s daughters to women being equals in all aspects of Jewish law, ritual and practice. It doesn’t stop there. The Torah expands demands that we expand inclusiveness to all races, to people who identify as LGBTQ+, to immigrants, and to anyone who might be considered marginal or expendable.
The names of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah are written in the Torah. They mattered. It took great courage to present themselves publicly to Moshe and press their claims. For each of us to matter, we need to take up their cause and claim equality and inclusiveness for all who are marginalized. That, for me, is the essence of Torah. Shabbat Shalom.