Counting in the Courts

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Simone Schicker is a second year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR. Her favorite area to read and write about is Judaism and relationships – including women and LGBTQ issues, reproductive rights, sex, gender identity and marriage. Check out Simone’s other Double Mitzvah columns, Giants in the Land – LGBT Rights Torah Style, Sacrifices, Holiness and Equality, Finding Our Voices, and last week’s column, Curses or Blessings : Coming to Know the Other.

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Within Judaism we often emphasize the importance of the community. For example: you cannot celebrate a wedding or say many of the prayers within a service aloud or have a Torah service without a minyan. Yet, we are also taught that the individual is made betzelem Elohim. This belief that we are all made in the image of G-d grants the individual an important place within our tradition. This week’s parsha is special because it is the first time that women are granted the right to own land. It is only permissible for them to inherit if their father has no sons to pass his land on to, but it is still an enormous step forward in our history. The idea that a woman would be allowed to possess land is something that many other cultures would not allow for centuries.

But this is not what I wish to focus on about this week’s parsha. I would like to speak about the fact that the mention of a woman by name in the Torah is a rarity. However, in this week’s parsha we are granted not only the name of one woman but the names of five different women: “The daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came forward, and his daughters’ names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.” (Numbers 27:1) While these women will not speak as individuals, but rather as a group, this does nothing to diminish the fact that they are granted names.

Why does the Torah grant these women the right to be named? Why are they not known only as Zelophehad’s daughters? I believe that it is to teach us the importance of seeing the individual’s rights within the community. Zelophehad’s daughters approached Moses, in front of the entire gathered congregation, to appeal the ruling that men would inherit from their father because they wished for their family line to continue even though they had no brothers. They were not modern women who were brought up to believe that they were to be treated equal to their male counterparts. Yet they stood up for themselves because they saw an injustice and they were successful in changing the status quo.

I believe there is a lesson to be learned from the bravery of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the lesson of standing up in the face of injustice. It is of supreme importance that when an individual sees an injustice that they speak out because without the voice of the individual there would be no movements. Every group of people with a cause started with one person who saw an injustice, who gathered other individuals who saw or experienced the same injustice to join them in speaking up and out for change. Without the individual, there would be no change. Margaret Meade said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This lesson has immediate applicability for many of us as we follow the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in regards to the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case. This is not the first case to make it to the Supreme Court that has limited a woman’s right to health care but it is certainly going to have an enormous impact on women throughout our country. It is during times like these that we must apply the lesson of this week’s parsha and tell our individual stories. Time and time again we have seen that when a person can connect a friend to an issue that this stops merely being an issue, and becomes a cause of importance.

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