DEDICATION: To my father, Rabbi Sholom Silver (z"l).
This Shabbat is his 29th Yahrzeit.
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I was quite young when my father (a"h) died of a heart attack. He was 53. He had been visiting a congregant in the hospital when he felt a chest pain and they admitted him. In those days, the catheterzation machines and procedures were much riskier and the machines were much less reliable. The machine at the hospital where my father was a patient was broken and they were waiting for a part to arrive from Europe. Another hospital in Pittsburgh had a working machine, but it was booked solid for a few days. So my father's doctor released him to go home and wait for the appointment at the other hospital to arrive. He had a massive heart attack the day after he came home and before he was to be admitted to the other hospital for the dye testing.
He lived a short and interesting life. He was born in Wacz, Hungary, where he was ordained as a young man before going to Israel (not yet a country) for a few years. His support for Israel took him to New York, where he met my mother. He "updated" his credentials with an American Orthodox smicha and a DHL (Doctorate of Hebrew Letters). Soon after I was born, we moved out of New York and my father started serving Conservative communities in smaller cities.
I have shared various things about him with this d'var community over time, so for this yahrzeit I want to acknowledge the amazing gift he gave me in not stifling my love of the One and my incessant seeking of knowledge. I was not told that as a woman I could not do things. Instead, I was challenged that if I took on something, I do it well and to the best of my ability and attention.
It was not that we didn't fight from time to time -- I was a teenager and a Rabbi's kid, so there were definitely some times that I tried his patience. There are times, when I look back at what I did, that I have to wonder what I was thinking. That I survived those times is a testimony to his love and patience. And then there are times, like when we stood together at the roadside pull-off watching an eagle teach her young to fly, that I felt incredably close to him.
I remember when he and my mother (a"h) visited me during my year in Israel. It was his first time back since he had left as a young man. He and my mother rented a car and we piled in and toured the country from the Kinneret to Eilat. Our touring group included the three of us, my roommate, Tova, and our poodle, Tali. He did not stick to standard tour sites, usually befriending someone and getting to see much more than we might have otherwise.
One such excursion was with the Samaritans at Har Grizim. On of their cohanim invited us to tour the area and to come into his home. He showed us where the community gathered for their Pesakh on the mountain and described the observances they followed (including the slaughtering of the lamb, a permit for which had to be obtained from the Israeli government because of the public nature of the slaughtering and roasting). In the Coheyn's house, we saw that they take the instruction to "write these word upon the mezuzot of your house" very literally and seriously -- it was beautifully written on the framing of his living room, such that when we sat in it, we were surrounded by the words of the Shema. It was written in a more ancient script and was done in beautiful colors and with a background design.
When we went to Tsfat, we ended up in little tiny shops off of the beaten path, where my father and a merchant disappeared into a back corner and my father emerged with a large grin and a small wrapped package which I later learned had a few books and some artwork in it. At a few archeological digs, we saw some of the newest things the scientist were examining. Even Tali, the little brown poodle was invited to tour the sights and sniff the objects (which she did with a gusto that surprised me -- she was more of a touring nut than I was).
After spending two weeks with us in Israel, my roommate and I accompanied my parents to Vienna where my mother was born. We had hoped to spend a say or two in Hungary and visit father's family's graves, especially that of my grandmother (a"h), for whom I am named. However, the then communist government of Hungary would not let my father enter because his US passport said "Rabbi" on it. Ironically, I think that visiting his mother's grave was probably one of the most important things he wanted to accomplish on the trip.
After a few days with them in Europe, Tova and I returned to Israel and my parents stayed on a few more days before returning to the US.
That was spring of 1973. That fall, Israel was again at war (Yom Kippur War) and the world entered a gas crunch with long lines at gas stations. That July, he died.
Seven students from the ALEPH RABBINIC PROGRAM are getting rabbinic smicha (and one person is getting smicha as a mashpia ruchani) next week -- please see their pictures and bios on the senior page at:
1. Parsha details: Num 30:2-36:13 [ Haftorah Jeremiah 2:4-28;3:4 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary:MATOT: Vows and when they are excused, 12,000 go to fight Midian and win, killing all of the males and taking the women and children as booty, Moshe's charge to kill all the women who have known men and all of the male children, dividing the booty to the army, the cohanim and the people, Gad and Reuben want to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan and they bargain with Moshe, agreeing to be shock troops when the rest of Yisrael crosses over the Jordan. MAS'EY: Recap of the 40-year journey, definition of the borders of the Land, cities of refuge, recap on inheritance and that an inheriting woman must marry within her tribe so that the land does not end up passing out of a tribe's hands.
And we finish bamidbar which ends on the interesting note of a repeat of the special provisions required when a woman inherits her father's land. Because of the complexity associate with this, she is required to marry a tribesman. Although, Torah doesn't give this alternative, my guess would be that if she wanted to marry outside of her tribe, she would have to give up her inheritance. Perhaps Torah omitted this option because in that setting it was very unlikely that a woman would want to give up her inheritance.
Now, I can hear some feminists getting very bent out of shape over the idea that a woman was restricted in who she could marry, and today, we would scream loudly if someone suggested such a restriction. However, the injunction makes sense in the context that tribes were not to permanently lose property (certainly a difficult plan to maintain and administer, but one that they held as paramount).
So, if a woman married a man from another tribe, her children would be considered of his tribe, not hers. A man could not change his tribe, even if he wanted to and his children were part of his tribe, subject to the same rules. A male convert would marry a woman and their children became part of her tribe. (If he didn't marry then the tribe of his children is not a concern in this model.)
Now the five daughters of Zelophehad, namely Makhlah, Tirzah, and Khoglah, and Milkah, and Noah, are specifically named and their husbands are not. Torah refers to them simply as their father's brothers' sons (cousins). This is significant because it tells us how important these women were. We are also told that they were pious -- "As the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad". (Num 36:10) And then Torah completes the explanation with "their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father." (Num 36:12)
These were not shy women -- they were willing to take it up to Moshe that they be insured an inheritance. And this, too, is clue that the land-tribe relationship is the key to what is being discussed. We get a glimpse of how Moshe worked through the resolution process to derive the day-to-day implications of the changes that were being wrought in the community. The essential change here is that property was to remain in the tribe to whom it was assigned. It was only in light of this restriction that the question of the women inheriting could have come into question. Their wisdom was that they saw the implications immediately, making them even better catches as a wife, and echoing Rachel and Rivka, who were also very business-sharp. There may even be some symbology in that it is five daughters and there were four matriarchs. Women are often portrayed in Torah as being very business-wise and the men often come off more greedy. So let's look more closely at the financial implications resulting from the new land inheritance restrictions and what it implies if a woman inherits a significant piece of land.
The overriding issue in the story of these daughters is in the financial implications of their inheritance IN LIGHT OF the rule that property was to remain in the tribe. Without this restriction, there would not have been an issue. Now, five daughters with what much have been a significant amount of land -- do you think that they would have any trouble finding a husband? Their tribe, namely Menashe, was a very large tribe and they would have been likely to marry within that tribe in any event.
I almost wonder if the fact that their tribesmen went to Moshe to talk about this implied that men from other tribes were wife-hunting among these five daughters. When the chiefs go to Moshe to ask for a ruling, Moshe responds by announcing it to the people. This is one of those situations that the mere fact that it is included and that the people complain to Moshe and he responds with a public announcement speaks more than the mere content of that announcement.
It is also an implication that the amount of land being discussed had to have been significant -- or else, why would anyone have cared enough to create the fuss whose edges we see in these few pasukim. It is also significant that this matter had been brought up two times in this Sefer.
And so the Sefer ends on this note.
Khazak, khazak, v'nitkhazeyk (Strength, strength and be strengthened)
3. Some Observations
This parsha stands out in stark contrast to the one with Korach in it. In this account, the people bring a question or a challange to Moshe and an answer is achieved in a graceful and satisfying manner, even if the requirements ring harsh in our modern years. The text points out that the daughters are happy with the solution. From the sounds of things, they were able to pick husbands that pleased them - the only restriction being that they be tribesmen.
Moshe handles the question of the tribes which want to remain on the eastern bank to a peaceful resolution as well, even though he considers it as threatening to the community as the scout incident, which he did not resolve as well. And so, Moshe has learned some things and, perhaps, the people have learned some things. These disputes or challenges do not come up against Moshe in front of all the people -- they are challenges to be overcome because of competing desires within the community. They are not challenges to Moshe's authority and it appears that back-biting and gossiping are not accompanying them.
And so we get an insight into Moshe -- he can problem solve quite well. He can draw down the Presence to create fair and just solutions -- as long as there is no confrontation to his own authority and ego. But didn't Num 12:3 say "And the man Moses was very humble, more than any other men which were upon the face of the earth." ( I have to admit that I smile when I think about the traditional view that says Moshe wrote these words at God's dictate and therefore says about himself that he is the humblest person he knows....)
If we take the text as accurate on its face value, then Moshe was a humble guy, at least in comparison to everyone else back then -- and probably even today. He is able to humber himself before the One enough to talk with him face-to-face. However, when the people grumble or challenge him directly, he still loses his temper. And to the end, he cannot recognize this issue inside himself.
It is definite Torah irony that this short-tempered man does so much to lay out the mishpatim (judgements), the day-to-day guidelines of how to live together that allow community and then peoplehood to grow out of a band of rag-tag escaped slaves. The people are birthed through their exodus. When they exit Mitzrayim, they are very tribal and not really national. They are a collection of outstanding families. This is echoed in the beginning of the second Parsha of the week in Num 33:1: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Mitzrayim (the tight places) according to their armies under the hand of Moshe and Aharon." Each tribe carried its own stuff and stayed largely to themselves.
For forty years, they have shared a common core of incredible experiences and in been in battles for their collective lives. They have fough and wrestled among themselves and slowly, but surely, the community cohesiveness has emerged. The account of the families of Gad and Reuven and the half of Menashe supporting the rest of the nation is the demonstration that the people has indeed achieved community. And with that cohesiveness, they are able to enter the Land.
4. Intimate Harmony
This speaks to the beauty of forming into a people, which is what the Parsha is all about. Miriam died a while back and in this Parsha, Aharon dies. The people weep and mourn, and then they can go on. Had Aharon died earlier in their journey, they might not have made it. The Intimacy also speaks of covenanting and righteousness, which are themes carried within the various smaller stories of the Parsha. The daughters are explicitly called righteous and the fighting men of Gad, Reuven and Menashe are also demonstrating righteousness. The inheritance and then the entrance to the Land both speak to the covenant, the embodiment of Harmony, between the One and Yisrael.
5. Rav Sholom (z'l) used to say.....
The Shabbat is his 29th yahrzeit -- so I am going to switch from his Torah teaching to covering his teaching on Psalm 29, a Psalm which is very much a part of Shabbat. [Translation is mine]
Psalm 29 A Psalm of David. ...
The voice of YHVH is upon the waters, the Glorious God thunders;
YHVH is upon the many waters.
The voice of YHVH is powerful;
the voice of YHVH is full of splendor.
The voice of YHVH shatters the cedars;
YHVH shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
You make them skip like a calf;
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of YHVH strikes with lightning.
The voice of YHVH shakes the wilderness;
YHVH shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of YHVH makes the hinds to calve,
and strips the forests bare;
and in Your temple everyone speaks of Your glory.
YHVH sits enthroned at the flood;
and YHVH sits enthroned as Sovreign forever.
YHVH gives strength to God's people;
YHVH blesses God's people with peace.
The Psalm speaks of the voice of the Holy One, which David is hearing in a storm. He is alone in the desert and the waters pour forth from the heavens and form rivers around him. There is thunder and lightning. God's Glory thunders across the desert, shaking the very earth beneath his feet. He sees trees spilt as lightning strikes them. This is the strength and might that rumbles forth from the One and can be terrifying, especially when we feel surrounded and powerless before it. And yet, within that roar and thunder is the sheer gift of the Holy One. As you feel the waters flooding around you, they chase you and lift you to a higher place, lifting you out of the place where you had grown comfortable and complacent.
As you rise, you can begin to see the Holy One's throne and come to recognize that even storms have a purpose and are embodiments of God. El Shadai, the roaring and thundering is also that which makes us build strong houses to protect ourselves. And in so doing, we can learn that we are partners in the tikun which is so desparately needed. David Psalm lets us know that when we rise high enough to see and know that the Holy One's throne is unscathed by the storm that rages around and within us and that the strength of the storm actually makes us stronger, if only we would turn and face the throne and acknowledge God's sovereignty both within and around us. Then we can open ourselves to the strength and through it to the mercy that is the balance. And then the blessings will flow down like water and we can achieve the wholeness of love and beauty as Yisrael becomes complete and complete. And that will be a state of peace.
1. Aharon: Aharon heard God so well that he did not have to hear it the same way that Moshe did -- he would know what to even as God was telling it in words to Moshe. And he did whatever would elevate things. Aharon dies in this Parsha and all the people weep and mourn because of his efforts. Have you ever elevated your own actions without having to be told? Have you helped elevate the contributions of others. For Aharon's memory, what can you elevate this next week?
2. Journeys: Have you wandered from place to place in the wilderness of your life? Can you recount the places you have been in your journey? Can you see the overall pattern. If you are over 40, are you ready to cross over the Jordan and join the battle for Jewish identity and peoplehood? If you are under 40, what can you do to build community as you wander in the words of life.
3. Voice of the one: hear the voice of the one when there is thundering. Listen for it water that flows and runs, whether in a storm or in a river or even in your sink. Hear the sound of rain as it hits different things. Hear the lightening and hear the shaking of the earth. When do you hear a voice and when do you feel it?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2003 Candy Lobb All rights reserved