Judaism: The Righteous Women of Israel
Rabbi Josh GersteinThe writer serves as the Jerusalem Campus Rabbi for the Aardvark Israel Immersion Program. Previously, he served as Av Bayit and Talmud Instructor at Yeshivat Orayta, a post High School Yeshiva in the Old City. Originally from Lancaster, PA, Rav Josh came to Israel in 2007 and lives with his wife in Jerusalem.
What is the connection between the census of the Jewish people and the episode of the daughters of Tzelafchad which follows immediately after it in Parshat Pinchas, read last week.
The last two verses regarding the census of the Jewish people note “But among these, there was not a man of those whom Moshe and Ahron the Kohen counted…For the lord has said of them, “they shall surely die in the wilderness,” and not a man was left of the , except for Calev son of Yefuneh and Yehoshua son of Nun.” (Bamidbar 26:64)
Rashi, the classic Biblical commentator, explains “Among these there was not a man: but the women were not included in the decree of the spies, for they cherished the land. The men said, Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt, while the women said Give us a portion. This is why this section is juxtaposed to the section of Tzelafchad daughters”.
Throughout Jewish history, we see that the women of Israel are always the ones who lift up and bring forward the unique potential of Am Yisrael. This is seen very clearly through the story of Miriam rebuking her father from separating from her mother, which then led to the birth of Moshe who redeemed the Jewish people.
Another example is the episode of the golden calf, where the women refused to give their jewelry and did not participate in the sin. And as Rashi mentioned above, this week’s Parsha is no exception. The verse states (Bamidbar 27:1) “The Daughters of Tzelafchad- the son of Chaifer , who was the son of Gilad, who was the son of Machir, who was the son of Menasheh, from the families of Yosef’s son Menasheh came forward.” Rashi on this verse comments “Of the families of Menasheh Son of Yosef : Why is this stated ? Does it not already say, Son of Menasheh? It is to teach you that just as Yosef cherished the land as it says- you should bring up my bones ….. So too his daughters cherished the land, as it says, - Give us a portion.”
These righteous women of Israel came to Moshe Rabbeinu with a seemingly justified complaint. How can it be that we, the ones who always cherished the land, should be left out of this important mitzvah of Yishuv Haaretz, settling the land? Moshe asked Hashem for the answer to this question, and Hashem told him to give them a “double portion” in the land.
This idea of the women of Israel being the ones to up lift the Jewish people, goes all the way back to the beginning of the creation of humanity. After Hashem created Adam He said “it is not good for man to remain alone, I shall create a help mate for him.”(Berishiet 2:18) And then the verses go on to describe the creation of Chava, Eve..
This concept of a “help mate” is often very much so misunderstood. A lot of people are under the false assumption that this means in some way that a women has a lower status than a man because she is his help mate, while in reality the complete opposite is true. By very definition for a person to be able to help another, they need to have a higher/ better ability than the person who is being helped. The same thing is true in the relationship between man and woman. There is something unique that a woman has that enables her to be “help” a man ascend in his service of Hashem. As was stated above, during the whole period of the Egyptian exile and the travel in the wilderness it was the Jewish women who set the bar for the Jewish people.
The question is what does this uniquely inherent quality have to do with their desire to enter the land of Israel and to not fall prey to the sin of the spies?
In Parshat Vayera 21:12 Hashem tells Avraham that “ Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice”. Rashi here comments that Avraham was supposed to listen to her Ruach Hakodesh, and he says that this pasuk is coming to teach us that Avraham was on a lower level of prophecy than Sarah.
The Netziv, in the beginning of Parshat Chaya Sarah(23:1), asks the question of how this can be so, how can we say that Avraham was on a lower level of prophecy than Sarah? We know that Hashem spoke to Avraham twenty times and He only spoke to Sarah once? The Netziv answers that there is a difference between the concept of Ruach Hakodesh, and Prophecy. Prophecy is the direct divine word, telling a person exactly what is required of them. Ruach Hakodesh, on the other hand, is when a person involves in deep introspection, and turns their thoughts inwards and to Hashem. From this experience they are able to perceive the proper path to follow, all without any direct divine intervention. The Netziv continues and says that Ruach Hakodesh can only come about through the Simcha of doing a Mitzvah and having complete trust and faith in Hashem.
I believe that this idea can also be explained with a piece that Rav Soloveitchik brings to describe his personal relationship with his mother. "We have two massorot, two traditions ... Father teaches the son the discipline of thought as well as the discipline of action. Father's tradition is an intellectual-moral one(I.e. Prophecy) ... What kind of a Torah does the mother pass on? ...Most of all I learned from my mother that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to the mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life - to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive." ("A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne," Tradition 17:2 [Spring 1978], pp. 76-77)
If we look at all of the episodes mentioned above there seems to be one common theme: in a moment of crises, the Jewish people experience a lack of faith in Hashem. And in all of these situations, the righteous women of Israel -- with the trait that they inherited from their Matriarch Sarah, having complete trust and faith in Hashem -- were able to feel the flavor, the scent and the warmth of the mitzvoth.
They said “Give us a portion”, “ for they cherished the land.” May we always merit to fulfill the pasuk in Mishlei (1:8) “and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.”