By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
July 19, 2003
In the course of this portion, a picture emerges of the
character of the next generation. The children of those who left Egypt, born
in the desert into a state of independence and responsibility, have purpose
and passion. Their leaders are presented to us – Pinchas, Elazar, the tribal
chiefs and Yehoshua.
After a census is taken (Chapter 26), which will establish the division of the
Promised Land, another type of leadership reluctantly steps forward.
And the daughters of Tzelofchad son of Chefer, son of Gilad, son of Machir,
son of Menashe, of the families of Menashe son of Yosef, drew close; and these
are the names of his daughters: Machlah, Noah, and Choglah, and Milkah, and
Tirtzah. And they stood before Moshe, and before Elazar the Kohen, and before
the princes and the entire congregation at the entrance to the Tent of
Meeting, saying: “Our father died, in the desert, and he was not among the
assembly that gathered against Hashem in the assembly of Korach; but he died
of his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be
removed from the midst of his family because he has no son? Give us a portion
among our father’s brothers.” And Moshe presented their case/judgment (MISHPATAN)
before Hashem (Bamidbar 27:1-5).
In this passage, the daughters of Tzelofchad reveal themselves as leaders and
role models. They exemplify those who love the land of Israel so much that
they are prepared to overcome their natural reticence and modesty to present
Hashem immediately replies:
“Rightly do the daughters of Tzelofchad speak. You shall surely give them a
possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and you shall
transfer their father’s inheritance to them” (verse 7).
This is followed by the laws of inheritance, stating that if a man dies
without sons, his inheritance passes to his daughters. If he has no daughters,
then his brothers inherit; if there are no brothers, then his father’s
brothers inherit; otherwise his closest relatives inherit him (verses 8-11).
What was the problem, however? The laws of the Torah had all been taught at
Sinai, including the laws of a daughter’s inheritance. It is possible that the
daughters of Tzelofchad had not yet heard these laws, which would explain why
they came to present their arguments before Moshe and the court:
“At the time, our teacher Moshe was sitting and expounding the issue of
levirate marriage [in which, if a man dies childless, his brother marries his
widow (Devarim 25:5-10)]. They said to him: ‘If we are considered the same as
a son, then give us an inheritance as a son; if not, then let our mother be
married through levirate marriage’” (Bava Batra 119b).
Nevertheless, it is not possible that Moshe had never heard the laws of
inheritance! So, what prevented him from deciding the matter immediately?
A number of answers have been suggested. We will try to explore one answer of
our Sages (Sifri 17, Bava Batra 119a).
The mishnah (Bava Batra 116b) states that the daughters of Tzelofchad were
awarded three portions in the division of the Land of Israel:
1. The portion of their father Tzelofchad.
2. Their father’s portion among the other sons of Chefer.
3. The extra portion of their firstborn.
This is based on the manner in which the Land was apportioned – although there
are other opinions on the subject – because this mishnah is predicated on the
position that “according to those who left Egypt was the land divided.”
Let us provide an example of this position. Suppose that two men, Reuven and
Shimon, were among those who left Egypt, and that Reuven has ten sons and
Shimon, one son. Reuven and Shimon died during the forty years in the desert,
but all of their children are alive at the time of the census in Chapter 26.
When Yehoshua will divide up the land, he will award one portion to Reuven’s
estate and one to Shimon’s, and their heirs will divide these portions: each
of Reuven’s heirs will receive 1/10 of his portion, while Shimon’s sole heir
will receive his portion in its entirety.
To return to the daughters of Tzelofchad: both Tzelofchad and Chefer were
among those who left Egypt. As such, each was entitled to a portion in the
division in the land. When Chefer died, the right of his portion passed to his
sons, and Tzelofchad inherited his own share among them. Furthermore,
Tzelofchad was Chefer’s firstborn, so he was entitled to a double portion. It
is these three portions – Tzelofchad’s own, his share of Chefer’s estate, and
the firstborn’s extra portion – that Tzelofchad’s daughters now claim.
Malbim points out that Moshe brought “their judgment (MISHPATAM)” which
connotes a clear law rather than DIN, which would refer to a matter still
under discussion. Moshe knew the laws of inheritance, but it was unclear how a
particular aspect of the law applied in this case.
The question revolved around the extra portion of the firstborn. The mishnah (Bechorot
8:9) teaches that the firstborn receives his extra portion only if the
property was actually in the possession (“muchzak”) of his father at the time
of his death; he does not receive that which was designated (“ra’ui”) for his
father if it was not in his possession. Now, although a portion of the Land of
Israel is designated for Tzelofchad – indeed, as one of those who left Egypt,
the land would be divided according to him – still, it was not in his actual
possession at the time of his death. So, why should his daughters receive his
On the other hand, the generation of the Exodus were told:
And I will bring you to the land about which I swore to give it to Avraham, to
Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give to you as an inheritance (MORASHAH) –
I am Hashem (Shemot 6:8).
Accordingly, the Land is considered muchzak by the generation of the Exodus,
and Tzelofchad’s daughters should receive his extra portion.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 119b) says that Moshe was uncertain how to define
MORASHAH: Is it the same as YERUSHAH, an inheritance, which one both receives
and bequeaths, or is it merely something that one bequeaths without receiving?
Hashem’s reply to the daughters of Tzelofchad, that they will receive their
share of their father’s extra portion as firstborn, means that MORASHAH is
equivalent to YERUSHAH. The Land of Israel was considered muchzak, in our
actual possession, from the time of the Exodus.
And so it remains.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The daughters of Tzelafchad, descendants of Cheifer, son of Gilad, son of
Machir, son of Menashe, approached Moshe with the claim that since their
father had no male heirs, they should be given his portion in Eretz Israel
(27:1-11). Moshe brought their case before Hashem, who answered that
indeed the daughters of Tzelafchad were entitled to receive their father's
The concern was later raised (Bamidbar 36:1-4) that if the daughters of
Tzelafchad marry out of their tribe, the portion that they were to receive
would be removed from the inheritance of Menashe and added to the
inheritance of the tribe to which they joined. The daughters of Tzelafchad
were therefore instructed that they must marry within the tribe, so that
their inheritance not pass over to another tribe.
Tzelafchad's daughters abided by the decision and married "their uncles'
sons" from "the families of Menashe the son of Yosef (ibid 36:11-12)." The
wording suggests that they did not marry their close cousins, descendants
of Cheifer, Gilad or Machir, but their more distant cousins belonging to
the other branches of the family.
Why? Half of the tribe of Menashe - the descendants of Machir - received
their inheritance in Eiver HaYarden, the east bank of the Jordan River,
along with the tribes of Gad and Reuven (Bamidbar 32:33, 39-42). The rest
of the tribe received their portion in the west bank of the Jordan, along
with the remainder of the tribes. It would appear that the daughters of
Tzelafchad chose to distance themselves from their closer relatives and
marry their more distant cousins because in that way they would have a
portion in Eretz Yisrael proper. What a lesson of sacrifice in order to be
able to live in the heart of Eretz Yisrael!
Rabbi Meyer Horowitz
Har Nof , Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320