Double Mitzvah – Pinhas

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Balak.

Rated PGIn this week’s parashah, Pinhas, God gives Pinhas a covenant of peace. God explains the apportionment of the Land of Israel, the daughters of Zelophehad petition to inherit their father’s portion, and Moses appoints Joshua as his successor.

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is often read as a feminist triumph. Zelophehad was a guy from the tribe of Menashe, and he had five daughters: Machla, Milka, Tirza, Chogla, and Noa. When Zelophehad died, the portion of land that he would have been allotted in Israel would have gone to any son he had, but since he only had daughters, his family wasn’t going to have any land in Israel. The daughters petitioned Moses to be given some land. Moses took the issue to God, who ruled in favor of the daughters. Woohoo!

It’s hard not to read this story as a parallel to the US Supreme Court ruling this week that struck down half of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that took away the rights of many same-sex couples. When the case came before the people in charge of making the ultimate rulings in the US, they found in favor of same-sex couples, giving these couples the same rights as their hetero peers. But while it’s great that DOMA has gone down, both it and the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad tell us quite a bit about how we value relationships, and how much better we can do going forward.

DOMA was clearly a prejudicial law, giving lots of awesome advantages to married couples. The daughters of Zelophehad were up against a different prejudicial law, that would have taken away their right to any land in Israel. The fact that both were struck down reminds us how important it is to stand up for our own rights, and also reminds us how much more there is to do. Same sex marriages are still not recognized across state lines—so if you’re married in New York, you can get to New Jersey and suddenly no longer be considered legally married—and the daughters of Zelophehad are ultimately forced to marry men within the tribe of Menashe so that the land they won the rights to stays within Menashe once they get married, and the land automatically goes to the husbands. We have forward movement, just not enough of it.

So let this be a reminder for us this week, that while we may be able to celebrate the victories of same-sex couples, and of women, our relationships, our lands, and our laws have a long way to go before we’re really settled in the Promised Land.

Shabbat shalom!

Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.
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  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    Tamar, thank you as always for drawing wisdom and insight rom our 2,000+ old tradition to provide relevance to our day-to-day lives. Shabbat Shalom!