The Rise of the Feminine, Zelophehad Daughters

Copyright Iris Wexler

Women rights, 3275 Years ago.

As their father, Zelophehad, had passed without a son, his five young daughters thought they should inherit his Land’s portion. They claimed that “The compassion of ordinary people is greater toward males than females; however, The World Creator has equal compassion for both men and women.”

They chose the Tent of Meeting, the place where God revealed himself, as the location for petitioning Moshe and the top Hebrew leadership about their right to inherit their father’s property. In reality, the daughters sought God’s intervention when they beseeched Moshe and said, “Give us the land”. Unable to refute their sophisticated legal argument, Moshe argued the case directly to God, who immediately approved the plea and granted their father’s property: “Zelophehad’s daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them.” (Numbers 27,7)

Seven years following God’s intervention on behalf of these five sisters, Joshua, the new Hebrew leader, conquered the land of Israel and distributed it according to God’s instructions as given to Moshe. When Zelophehad’s daughters reminded Joshua about God’s earlier decision (Joshua 17–3), Joshua not only returned their father’s land but also gave them half the territory belonging to Menashe, one of the twelve tribe of Israel.

Research has confirmed the huge parcel of land attributed to the five Zelophehad daughters. Pieces of pottery found in 1910 by George Andrew Reisner of the Harvard Semitic Museum, in the old Israeli city of Samaria, explicitly mention their names written in old Hebrew; researchers date the pottery from 850 B.C.
More recently, in 1992, Dr. Arie Bornstein showed that the text on the pottery includes delivery certificates written by the Israeli king’s administration for goods delivered as taxes by land owners. Based on this information, Bornstein created a map showing the five properties of the Zelophehad daughters, comprising a total of 727,000 acres, or land equal to more than half of that owned by the large Menashe tribe.

Why did Zelophehad’s daughters receive half the tribe’s land when they were only five among the 52,700 members of the Menashe? Rashi in Numbers 26–64 contrasts male and female relationships with the land of Israel, commenting, “The power of women is greater than that of men.” In this text, we see men commenting, “Let us go back to Egypt,” while women (including the Zelophehad daughters) said, “Give us land.” Beyond these differences in outlook, men, and not women, participated in the sin of the spies, in which the spies sent by Moshe to scout the Land, persuaded the people of Israel to give up their mission to conquer the land. Only the women of that time stayed faithful to God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: upon their exit from Egypt, he would help establish the people of Israel on their own land.

According to Lurianic Kaballah, Divinity expresses itself in our world through Feminine and Masculine forces. The Masculine force brings sanctity from the higher worlds through Torah, though essence in a top-down movement, while the Feminine force rises from reality, from existence, bottom-up. Jewish history from the biblical times to our times, embeds the Rise of the Feminine.

The five Zelophehad daughters story illustrates the Rise of the Feminine, the power to transform a sublime ideal into practice combining essential faith with intimate understanding of existence, and the ability to overcome prejudice and stereotypes without surrendering to despair.



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Yaacov Cohen

I am a high tech entrepreneur who love studying and teaching Torah. Aspiring to connect mundane and holy.