Matot Masei: Your daughter

You thought your daughter was yours alone, but your daughter was also part of her husband’s family from the moment she was born.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, | updated: 17:49

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Your daughter is born, and you rejoice. You revel with your wife, children, family and friends; there is a new addition to the family. Right? Well only in part. Your daughter is yours, but she is also part of a different family.

The Torah tells us about the daughters of Zelophehad, who had no brothers and whose father passed away in the desert. Jewish law dictates that when a parent passes, the inheritance flows to the son. Zelophehad only had daughters, and the law for this scenario had yet to be scripted. Zelophehad’s daughters approached Moses and asked to inherit their father’s portion of the land of Israel.

Moses took the matter up with G-d, Who replied: Tell the daughters of Zelophehad that they are right. They are entitled to inherit their father. Tell the Jewish people that if a man dies, you should give his inheritance to his son. If he has no sons, you should transfer his inheritance to his daughter.

This raises a question. Why does the Torah say that inheritance is given to the son, but transferred to the daughter? Is there a difference between giving and transferring? The Torah’s words are precise. If the Torah employs a different idiom it is meant to impart a message. What might that message be?

Tribal Affiliation
The land of Israel was divided according to the tribes. The tribe of Judah was settled in and around Jerusalem, the tribe of Zebulun was settled near the sea. Each tribe was settled in a region that fit its interests and needs.

Jewish law stipulates that upon marriage, women join their husbands’ tribe to all intents and purposes. For example, if he is a kohen, she becomes entitled to Terumah, the priestly gift. If she is a kohen and he is not, she loses her entitlement. Thus, a woman who inherits her ancestral land upon her father’s passing, will bequeath it to her husband and children, who belong to a different tribe.

This explains the Torah’s use of the word transfer to describe the inheritance of a daughter. When a son inherits, the land remains within the tribe, it is merely given to the son. When a daughter inherits, the inheritance is transferred to the tribe of her husband and children.

The tribe of Zelophehad eventually complained to Moses that if they inherit their father’s portion, their tribe would lose the land. Moses responded by stipulating that the daughters should marry within their tribe. But this stipulation was only binding in this one situation. It doesn’t bind all women who inherit.

We now understand why sons inherit ahead of daughters. When your son inherits, your ancestral land remains within your tribe. When your daughter inherits, it eventually transfers out of your tribe. If you don’t have a son, your line within the tribe will expire anyway, so it wouldn’t matter if your daughter transferred the inheritance to her tribe. However, if you have a son, you would want to keep the ancestral land within your tribe and family. Therefore, your son inherits first. (Your daughter doesn’t lose out because your son will be required to provide for her out of the inheritance.)

Before Marriage
This raises an interesting question. The Torah doesn’t distinguish between married and single daughters. The Torah describes the inheritance of all daughters, including single daughters, as a transfer. It is hoped that they will eventually marry, at which point the inheritance will transfer to their husband’s family, but until that time, they are affiliated with your tribe. Why is their inheritance defined as a transfer?

The answer is astounding. It is because your daughter also belonged to her husband’s family from the moment of her birth. From the day she was born, when you held her in your hands, fed her, cooed to her, dressed her, and loved her, part of her belonged to his tribe.

The Talmud tells us that yet before we are born, the name of our intended is pronounced in heaven. The identity of our spouse is not a secret in heaven; it is only a secret to us. It takes us decades to find one another, but that doesn’t change the fact that we were made for each other from before we were born.

In and of itself, this doesn’t prove our contention that your daughter also affiliates with her husband’s tribe from birth. It is quite possible that your daughter affiliates with your tribe until marriage and transfers out of your tribe upon marriage. But the Zohar, the seminal text of Jewish mysticism, teaches that husband and wife are like one body—each born with one half of a shared soul; and when they marry their souls meld. It turns out, your spouse really is your other half or maybe even your better half.

The following is a fascinating illustration of this oneness: Certain Mitzvot are only binding upon men, other Mitzvot are only binding upon women. How do women fulfil the Mitzvot that are binding upon men and vice versa? The answer is that we fulfill these Mitzvot through our other half. It turns out that I share in my wife’s Shabbat candles and she shares in my tefillin.

The question is how do children receive this merit before marriage? The answer is that since their spouse’s identity is well known in heaven, our future spouse shares in the merit of our Mitzvah even before we are married. How romantic! When your daughter lights Shabbat candles, she connects with her other half whom she will love one day, but whom she has yet to meet. Vice versa when he dons Tefilin.

They are already connected. Their souls belong to each other. They are already one. They just don’t know it. And neither do you. You thought your daughter was yours alone, but your daughter was also part of her husband’s family from the moment she was born.

Why?
If your daughter is bound to her future husband from the moment she is born, why was she given to you, why doesn’t her husband’s family take care of her, love her, and raise her? How fair is it that you love her, you take care of her, you provide for her, and she affiliates with her husband?

The answer is that our children, our sons and our daughters, don’t belong to us, or their spouses, or even themselves. They belong to G-d. He gives us His children to raise and we consider it a privilege. But we must constantly remember that they are not ours. They are G-d’s children and we raise them for G-d.

When the time comes, they will spread their wings and make their own homes. Our hearts will swell with joy and break with loneliness, but never can we feel that it isn’t fair. They were never our children in the first place. They were given to use to raise, and how happy we are that they were.





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