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07/10/2020 11:42:43 AM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

07/10/2020 11:01:48 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

This week’s Dvar Torah is dedicated by Sheila and Louis Train in memory of Sheila’s sister Ruth Kelman  z’l and her brother-in-law Rabbi Joseph Kelman z’l. 

You can't have your cake and eat it too...The popular phrase, traced back to 1538,  says Rabbi Francis Nataf, is an apt idiom to understand the events surrounding Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah the daughters of Tzelafchad.


This week’s Parsha describes their dilemma (Num. 27: 1-4

וַתִּקְרַ֜בְנָה בְּנ֣וֹת צְלָפְחָ֗ד בֶּן־חֵ֤פֶר בֶּן־גִּלְעָד֙ בֶּן־מָכִ֣יר בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת מְנַשֶּׁ֣ה בֶן־יוֹסֵ֑ף וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ שְׁמ֣וֹת בְּנֹתָ֔יו מַחְלָ֣ה נֹעָ֔ה וְחָגְלָ֥ה וּמִלְכָּ֖ה וְתִרְצָֽה׃

The daughters of Zelophehad, of Manassite family—son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph—came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

וַֽתַּעֲמֹ֜דְנָה לִפְנֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֗ה וְלִפְנֵי֙ אֶלְעָזָ֣ר הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלִפְנֵ֥י הַנְּשִׂיאִ֖ם וְכָל־הָעֵדָ֑ה פֶּ֥תַח אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃

They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said,

אָבִינוּ֮ מֵ֣ת בַּמִּדְבָּר֒ וְה֨וּא לֹא־הָיָ֜ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעֵדָ֗ה הַנּוֹעָדִ֛ים עַל־יְהוָ֖ה בַּעֲדַת־קֹ֑רַח כִּֽי־בְחֶטְא֣וֹ מֵ֔ת וּבָנִ֖ים לֹא־הָ֥יוּ לֽוֹ׃

“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the LORD, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons.

לָ֣מָּה יִגָּרַ֤ע שֵׁם־אָבִ֙ינוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֔וֹ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין ל֖וֹ בֵּ֑ן תְּנָה־לָּ֣נוּ אֲחֻזָּ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֵ֥י אָבִֽינוּ׃

Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!”

This group of women questions the status quo that their father’s land will go to the male next of kin. They had no brothers and so the land was going to be lost from their family forever. 

They bring their claim to Moshe and he does not know what to do so he brings their claim to God. 

וַיַּקְרֵ֥ב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטָ֖ן לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃

Moses brought their case before the LORD.

God vindicates the sisters by dispelling the misunderstanding and orders Moshe to teach the ruling to Bnei Yisrael.  

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

And the LORD said to Moses,

כֵּ֗ן בְּנ֣וֹת צְלָפְחָד֮ דֹּבְרֹת֒ נָתֹ֨ן תִּתֵּ֤ן לָהֶם֙ אֲחֻזַּ֣ת נַחֲלָ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֵ֣י אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וְהַֽעֲבַרְתָּ֛ אֶת־נַחֲלַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ן לָהֶֽן׃

“The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.

וְאֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל תְּדַבֵּ֣ר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֣ישׁ כִּֽי־יָמ֗וּת וּבֵן֙ אֵ֣ין ל֔וֹ וְהַֽעֲבַרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־נַחֲלָת֖וֹ לְבִתּֽוֹ׃

“Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.

Things are looking up to Tzelofchad’s daughters...but not for long.

About ten chapters later, the leaders of the tribe of Menashe protest the new ruling (Num. 36: 1-3)

וַֽיִּקְרְב֞וּ רָאשֵׁ֣י הָֽאָב֗וֹת לְמִשְׁפַּ֤חַת בְּנֵֽי־גִלְעָד֙ בֶּן־מָכִ֣יר בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה מִֽמִּשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֑ף וַֽיְדַבְּר֞וּ לִפְנֵ֤י מֹשֶׁה֙ וְלִפְנֵ֣י הַנְּשִׂאִ֔ים רָאשֵׁ֥י אָב֖וֹת לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

The family heads in the clan of the descendants of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh, one of the Josephite clans, came forward and appealed to Moses and the chieftains, family heads of the Israelites.

וַיֹּאמְר֗וּ אֶת־אֲדֹנִי֙ צִוָּ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה לָתֵ֨ת אֶת־הָאָ֧רֶץ בְּנַחֲלָ֛ה בְּגוֹרָ֖ל לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַֽאדֹנִי֙ צֻוָּ֣ה בַֽיהוָ֔ה לָתֵ֗ת אֶֽת־נַחֲלַ֛ת צְלָפְחָ֥ד אָחִ֖ינוּ לִבְנֹתָֽיו׃

They said, “The LORD commanded my lord to assign the land to the Israelites as shares by lot, and my lord was further commanded by the LORD to assign the share of our kinsman Zelophehad to his daughters.

וְ֠הָיוּ לְאֶחָ֞ד מִבְּנֵ֨י שִׁבְטֵ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לְנָשִׁים֒ וְנִגְרְעָ֤ה נַחֲלָתָן֙ מִנַּחֲלַ֣ת אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ וְנוֹסַ֕ף עַ֚ל נַחֲלַ֣ת הַמַּטֶּ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּהְיֶ֖ינָה לָהֶ֑ם וּמִגֹּרַ֥ל נַחֲלָתֵ֖נוּ יִגָּרֵֽעַ׃

Now, if they marry persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they marry; thus our allotted portion will be diminished.

Their argument is also compelling. Why should their tribal land holdings be diminished?

In response to their claim, God alters the previous arrangement. 

Tzelafchad’s daughters are commanded to marry men from their own tribe in order to protect tribal integrity (Num. 36: 5-7)

וַיְצַ֤ו מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַל־פִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר כֵּ֛ן מַטֵּ֥ה בְנֵֽי־יוֹסֵ֖ף דֹּבְרִֽים׃

So Moses, at the LORD’s bidding, instructed the Israelites, saying: “The plea of the Josephite tribe is just.

זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֞ר אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֣ה יְהוָ֗ה לִבְנ֤וֹת צְלָפְחָד֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לַטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֖ם תִּהְיֶ֣ינָה לְנָשִׁ֑ים אַ֗ךְ לְמִשְׁפַּ֛חַת מַטֵּ֥ה אֲבִיהֶ֖ם תִּהְיֶ֥ינָה לְנָשִֽׁים׃

This is what the LORD has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father’s tribe.

וְלֹֽא־תִסֹּ֤ב נַחֲלָה֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִמַּטֶּ֖ה אֶל־מַטֶּ֑ה כִּ֣י אִ֗ישׁ בְּנַחֲלַת֙ מַטֵּ֣ה אֲבֹתָ֔יו יִדְבְּק֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

No inheritance of the Israelites may pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelites must remain bound each to the ancestral portion of his tribe.

This back and forth highlights a fact of life and that is that life is full of conflicting interests. Much as we would like, we cannot always make everyone happy.

Rabbi Nataf puts it this way in summing up our episode.

“Although it ends with everybody seemingly getting what he or she wanted, the narrative highlights the tension that is always created by conflicting needs, which are well nigh impossible to meet to everyone’s satisfaction. A man succeeded by daughters and no sons creates a situation wherein tribal interests are in conflict with familial and personal ones.”

There is one more step here. The requirement of the daughters to marry from within their tribe was a temporary one. In later generations women in a similar situation would be permitted to marry men from outside their tribe. 

The wavering back and forth highlights that as hard as we may try, when there are conflicting interests, it is impossible to meet the needs of both parties. This is one of the great messages of this episode. 

Rabbi Nataf concludes: “Ultimately, it teaches us that the Torah sees both personal and group interests as valid and legitimate. Similarly – but perhaps even more important – we learn that there is no automatic prioritization of the group over the individual, or vice-versa. The Torah’s bottom line is that our identities are complex. Therefore, drawing the lines as to which part of our identities takes precedence in any given situation is a difficult and nuanced matter to which there is no universal answer. This desert truth will always be basic to the human condition.

The existence of conflicting needs is not a surprise. A deeper message is that even within an individual there is a tug of war between the personal and the communal. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed these types of conflicts in our households.. With so much time at home and resources (space, computers, exercise equipment and bandwidth for example) being shared in new ways, conflict erupted and new paradigms of conflict resolution were needed. 

Of course, one of the greatest sources of conflict has been about social distancing

One thing we have learned from the pandemic is that the pendulum swings between the various concerns and viewpoints that exist in our lives. Recognizing this is an important factor in navigating this confusing time. As we saw in the daughters of Tzelafchad situation, the more talking there is, the better chance there is of finding the right solution for the specific time.

This application of this reality to the realm of leadership is driven home in an episode that takes place immediately after the daughters of Tzelachfod make their case. 

God tells Moshe that he will not enter into the Land of Israel. Immediately, Moshe’s attention turns to finding a suitable successor. I suggest that the type of leader that Moshe asks for may have been influenced by the previous events of Tzelafchad’s daughters. In doing so, he asks for a specific quality in the new leader.

After God informs Moshe of his fate, Moshe responds. 

Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum , paints a beautiful picture of what was going through Moshe’s mind. “Moshe pictures all of the leaders of the generation seeking to find a replacement, but cannot identify such a person.” 

One wonders, why did Moshe have such a hard time? This was the “greatest generation” of the Jewish people.  Why was Moshe stumped?

It could be that after experiencing the clash between individual and tribal needs, Moshe was uncertain who among the other leers could successfully navigate such clashes.  

So, after the realization, Moshe turns to God for help.

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃

Moses spoke to the LORD, saying,

יִפְקֹ֣ד יְהוָ֔ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י הָרוּחֹ֖ת לְכָל־בָּשָׂ֑ר אִ֖ישׁ עַל־הָעֵדָֽה׃

“Let the LORD, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community

Moshe refers to God as “אֱלֹהֵ֥י הָרוּחֹ֖ת לְכָל־בָּשָׂ֑ר” - Source of the breath of all flesh, and it captures the attention of the Rabbis. 

GOD OF THE SPIRITS [OF ALL FLESH] — Why is this expression used? (i.e., why does it not state simply אלהי כל בשר?) He said to Him: “Lord of the Universe! the personality of each person is revealed to you, and no two are alike. Appoint over them a leader who will tolerate each person according to his individual character (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 10; cf. Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 776).

After what happened with Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, Moshe understands that a special type of leader is needed. Among all of the characteristics that a leader needs, Moshe adds one more, the ability to navigate the many and often conflicting needs of the people - in this case, a clash between individual needs and tribal needs.

Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that this type of clash is inherent in the human condition and that Judaism does not choose sides because it is not really a clash. Each and everyone of us is, of course, an individual and we are also part of a community. 

 “Judaism has always viewed man from this dual perspective. It sees every person as an independent individual and also as part of a community, a limb of the body of Israel....The pivotal question is: Does the individual stand above the community which should serve its needs, or should the individual subordinate himself to the community's needs? In Judaism this question has been asked in relation to the individual who serves as a community leader. Who, in our history, was a greater leader than Moses, redeemer of Israel, the great rabbi and teacher, about whom our Sages wrote that his worth was equivalent to that of six hundred thousand men, meaning the total number of the male community of his time? Nonetheless, when the children of Israel fashioned the Golden Calf, "God said to Moses, 'Go down - lower yourself down; for did I not grant you greatness only to benefit Israel? And now that Israel has sinned, what need have I of you?'" (Berakhot 32b). Even the greatness of an individual like Moses is dependent upon the community. It would seem that the community and the individual are placed in balance with each other and are interdependent. At times we find that the community must sacrifice itself on behalf of the individual ... And at times the individual must sacrifice himself for the good of the community.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance, pp. 114-115)

Rabbi Soloveitchik's conclusion is precisely how things played out in the confrontation about the land. First the individual claim of the sisters won the day, then the pendulum swung to support the tribes and then back to the individuals.

The leadership challenge of individuals and community has been explicit during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

We have seen this play out so many times since the Coronavirus pandemic. Communities are struggling to find a balance between individual and communal needs. I have experienced it first hand. When we were not having services, people expressed their personal desire to come back to shul, even as decisions were being made with the entire community (UOS, Houston, etc.) in mind. Things worked the other way as well and when the shul opened - for the sake of trying to maintain community cohesion - people questioned how the safety of individuals was being protected. 

When I have fielded these calls and emails, I have realized that most concerns can be addressed (even if not to 100% satisfaction) by taking a page out of Moshe’s new leadership playbook - recognizing and appreciating that each person has their own unique viewpoint and character and that leadership is about listening to each and every concern with an open heart. 

Our situation is so fluid and ever changing much like the situation of Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness. The lessons of leadership, patience and the importance of ongoing communication can serve us well.

Really, life is not about whether or not you can have your cake and eat it too. Life is defined by how we react to reality of conflicting needs and changing circumstances.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781