The previous Parashah ended with Pinchus, also called Phinehas, killing the prince of the tribe of Simeon along with Cozbi, the daughter of one of the kings of the Midianites. It was this act of zealousness for God’s law and honor that stayed the plague God had sent among the people for turning to the gods of Midian.
Now, God states that Pinchus and his descendants will be the high priest as reward for his actions. God then commands Moses to take a census of the people (meaning the men) aged 20 and older (except the Levites are to be counted at 1 month and older.)
After we are told the results of the census, the next chapter is about the daughters of Zelophehad, who died in the desert but had no sons. Their request was that they inherit their fathers portion, even though they are women. God agrees that the family should have their share of inheritance, and so the law is created that if there are no sons, the daughters inherit but they must marry within the tribe so the overall property distribution remains stable.
Moses is told that it is time for him to die, and the first thought in Moses’ mind is not about himself (remember- he is the humblest of all men) but for the people, so he asks God to provide a leader. God tells Moses to appoint (no surprise here) Joshua. Moses lays his hands on Joshua in the sight of all Israel so that they know Joshua is the Man!
Finally, God has Moses remind the people about the rules for sacrifice and the festivals that they are to maintain forever once they are in the land.
Some have argued over the years, especially in recent times, that the bible is sexist and God is a misogynist. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad shows this to be untrue, and unfair. It is an absolute fact that the rights of a woman in those days were no where near the rights women enjoy today, with regards to job opportunities and legal status within the social structure. But, on the other hand, they were given important responsibilities within the family structure and, when you read the bible carefully, you see that they were not really second class citizens (OK, OK- I agree the laws regarding a Get, the divorce decree, are unfair) but simply have a separate and distinct role within the society. Proverbs is very complimentary to women, and show them to be very influential.
The fact that God decreed woman have the right to inherit and own land is unique among the other peoples of that day, and to require marriage within the tribe is a legal matter to maintain the proper distribution of the inheritance the tribe receives. This one section demonstrates that God is not a misogynist.
The chronological order of events in the bible is not always clear, but here we are told that this is some 38 years after the people refused to enter the land, which was only a few chapters ago. Eleazar is the Cohen HaGadol because Aaron is dead. The daughters of Zelophehad tell us their father died in the desert, and the results of the census show that no one who was counted in the first census coming out of Egypt is alive today.
The time to enter the land is coming quickly: all those who were to die are dead, there is a new High Priest, Joshua is now in charge, and Moses is about to die. We’re on the precipice of the desert, about to cross over the Jordan into the land of promise. That is why God tells Moses to remind the people about the laws for sacrifice and the festivals so that they will not forget and sin when they first come into the land. That would be a pretty lousy start, don’t you think?
“Well, here we are…in the Land…finally! Let’s forget everything we are supposed to do and with out first step in the promised land we can fall flat on our faces.”
Not a good idea.
The lesson I see here is simple- the best way to not forget what to do is do remind yourself of it, constantly. God has Moses review the commandments, He told Joshua to write it on the stones on Mount Gerizim, later God tells the kings of Israel to have a copy of the Torah with them always and to read from it every day, and we all (should) have our bibles close at hand, and read from it everyday.
I often tell how I keep my bible in the bathroom, because I know I will be there, at least once, every day of my life. That is how I can guarantee I will have 10 minutes or so, undisturbed, in which I can read a chapter or two, daily, without fail.
Where is your bible? How often do you read it? Daily? Once a week? Do you take it with you to worship and go to the place in it that the Priest, Pastor or Rabbi tells you? Or do you just figure if you go to services someone there will read something from it to you?
God holds each and every one of us accountable for what we do, and if we do what others tell us, it is still what we do. And you will be held accountable for it! If you only allow others to read the bible to you, then you will not be able to hear the Holy Spirit talking over the sound of the human being reading. Humans shout, but the Holy Spirit speaks in a still, quiet voice. If you want to hear the Holy Spirit ( in Hebrew called the Ruach HaKodesh) then you need to be reading the bible in a still, quiet place. Otherwise, how will you be able to hear the the Lord whispering to you?
Today’s parashah lesson is this: be zealous for God and demonstrate it by reading His word daily. This is the best way to learn about God, what He wants from you, and to hear from the Ruach HaKodesh when it speaks to you. And don’t worry about the “boring” parts, just go through them. That’s what is so wonderful about the Spirit- you are reading a bunch of names and numbers and can’t even figure out why this stuff is in there, and suddenly something you have read a dozen times, that seems to have no impact or worth, comes alive in your mind and you see a deep and abiding truth that God put there, just for you! That’s right- He had Moses put that in there, millennia ago, just for you.
And now you get it. That’s why we need to read, over and over, until we know it well enough that we can get past the P’Shat (plain language) and into the Drash (deeper meaning). It’s like math- you first learn to count, then how to add and subtract, then how to multiply, and eventually you are doing quantum mechanics in your head.
Well, maybe not in your head. But you can do it! That’s why we need to read every day what God has for us.
It’s like Cracker Jacks- the word of God is like honey on my lips, taste and see that it is good (Psalm 38); as you devour the word, loving every bite, you will find, hidden deep inside, a prize. That prize is the revelation God has for you, just for you, and it is in there.
You only need to look.