I am pleased to share Elyssa Hofgard’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Pinchas from her recent bat mitzvah with the Adventure Rabbi.
The Place Inside Us All
We have all had unfair things happen to us in life. The question is, can we overcome these obstacles in life? My torah portion, 26:7-11 in Parashat Pinechas in the book of Numbers, taught me that we can. In this parashah, a census is being taken of all of the men of the various tribes among whom the land is to be divided. However, there arose an issue of women’s rights, which is my torah portion: The daughters of Zelophechad came forward before Moses, pleading to have a share in land among their father’s kinsmen because their father had died and he had left no sons. Moses brought their plea before Adonai, and Adonai said that it was just. Furthermore, God made a new law stating that if a man had no sons, his inheritance would go to his daughters. This might not seem like a big triumph for women now, but then, this was a radical idea. This taught me that if you put your mind to it, you can overcome the biggest obstacles in life. It doesn’t matter what happens, it matters what you make of it.
The daughters of Zelophechad were just poor young women whose father died in the wilderness, when men mostly ruled the world. In those times, women were not allowed to leave the house without a man’s permission, they were normally restricted to roles of little or no authority, they couldn’t testify in court or appear in public venues, and they couldn’t talk to strangers. Women were generally viewed in a negative light, and although they had a little more power than in some other cultures, it was not much. They could have just sat back and bemoaned their fate, but instead they decided to do something about it. They mustered their courage, together, and demanded that Moses listen to them. Moses didn’t choose to meet with many people, so this was no small feat. Perhaps their determination and tenacity won him over. Moses didn’t dismiss their demand as arbitrary. He brought it before Adonai, and these women changed an age-old law. The daughters of Zelophechad had a bad thing happen to them, and they chose to make something good out of it.
Many great Jewish thinkers have positive things to say about following the daughters of Zelophechad’s example. Says Rabbi Chemen, “Perhaps the most important legacy of the daughters of Zelophechad is the call for us to take hold of life with our own hands.” Says Shelly Lindauer, “We must find the courage, the tenacity of the daughters of Zelophechad.” In other words, many people agree that we must listen to the ancient call of these women to take hold of life with our own hands. If all of us come together to do this, we can make a major difference in the world and change many unfair things.
A modern day example of this is our Tikkun Olam project in the Adventure Rabbi B’nai Mitzvah Class this year. We cleaned up a park in Boulder, and we really made a difference in the environment of the park. If just one person was picking up trash, it would have helped a little, but we were able to make a big difference by all working together. This year, in the Adventure Rabbi class, we strove to connect nature to Judaism. We climbed peaks in rainstorms, learned how to bake challah, went on a moonlit hike, and had an amazing experience. We learned about trust and friendship. I learned that the main idea of Judaism is a community where everyone supports each other. In this community, you are free to be yourself. Everyone is connected and together. The daughters of Zelophechad did just this. They embodied the values of Judaism, coming together for a common goal. The Adventure Rabbi program also helped me find what nature means to me.
In nature, there is no second-guessing yourself. If you are climbing a peak in a rainstorm, you have to make decisions, and be courageous. Nature inspires me to take initiative in my life. When I am out in nature, I feel unburdened, and like I can do anything. I feel closer to God, myself, and others around me. Everyone throughout the ages has found inspiration in the raw beauty of nature. The daughters of Zelophechad may have been in mourning over their father’s death, and wondering what they were going to do, when they saw the sun coming over the horizon. They marveled at this natural beauty and then made up their minds. They were going to take action and do something to change their situation. In our modern world, we can find inspiration in the last wild places left. Nature can help us find strength to do things we otherwise wouldn’t have the courage to do.
Another modern day example of applying this idea to our lives is women’s role in Judaism today. Women in Judaism have come a long way since the daughters of Zelophechad, but they were truly the first feminists and made many other innovations possible. Members of an organization that has helped many women in Judaism, Ezrat Nashim, did not let themselves be stopped. They crashed a rabbinical conference in 1972 and demanded that women be allowed to be called to the Torah, to lead services, to become rabbis and cantors, to serve as witnesses, and to initiate divorce. Since then, many of these changes have happened. If members of Ezrat Nashim had not been so proactive, I might not be here, having my Bat Mitzvah! However, we cannot just think about women in Judaism. We must broaden our minds to include and help other women of different religions and ethnicities. Many women around the world work more than men yet are paid less, live in poverty, and are abused. We can improve their situation if we stand fast, and let nothing stop us.
In conclusion, we must take hold of our lives with our own hands. We should listen to the forgotten, but persistent, cry of the daughters of Zelophechad inside our hearts. This place is inside us all, and we can come together and find it.
Yasher koach, Elyssa! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.