Parashat Pinchas: Teen D’var Torah

Parashat Pinchas: Teen D’var Torah

We are pleased to share Lila Crank’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Pinchas from her recent bat mitzvah at Congregation Bonai Shalom.

by Lila Crank
Shabbat Shalom. I am so incredibly happy that all of you could be here on my special day and that I am here standing before you now as a woman.

This is such a privilege especially because in places like Nigeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, girls and women are treated with great disrespect. Some are shot at just because they want an education, which they aren’t allowed to have by law; they are my age and are being married off; they are being severely punished because of men’s crimes; They are growing up in places where there are extremist groups like the Boko Haram and the Taliban who forbid women education and where the literacy rate, once the highest, is now among the lowest. As a world, as one big community, we cannot just stand idly by and watch this happen. We must do something. But, here’s the million-dollar question- how? How do we undertake something so incredibly grim and so extremely challenging?

In the Navajo culture, my father’s people, there is a concept called sa’ah naaghaii bik’eh Hozho better known as Hozho. Hozho is a concept that exemplifies a model of balance in living, which has us find a balance of logic and emotion and tells us that as a Navajo people we must find, restore, and practice it every day of our lives. It is about health, about having a long life, having happiness, wisdom, knowledge, harmony. It is to make our lives within our community, our family, and especially within ourselves, balanced.

We find an excellent example of this in my parsha, or the portion of the Torah that we are reading this week- Parshat Pinchas. In Parshat Pinchas, there are five sisters Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father (Zelophlechad) had no sons to inherit his land and in that time, only men could inherit it. When he died, his daughters brought forward their case, which was the fact that they couldn’t inherit his land, to Moses and asked him to allow them to inherit it. The Talmud says, “The daughters of Zelophlechad were learned women. They presented their petition in a logical and halachically sophisticated manner.” They brought their case to Moses using a balance of emotion and logic: they didn’t act on impulse – in fact the Talmud states, that “The daughters of Zelophehad were wise women, for they presented their petition at the right time.”

While the daughters had put in a lot of logic into their case, they also had a lot of emotion in the way they brought their case to Moses- they were humble and respectful but also strong and passionate. They made a practical decision of when they presented their case, which illustrates their use of logic. They also had emotion when bringing forward the case to Moses with the intent to create a balance, a harmony, in their lives and in the community. Because they did this in the most effective way, God listened and said to Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel saying: If a man dies and has no son, you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.” God said this directly after Moses prayed to him to take the sisters’ case — no thinking, no hesitation, direct.

Why so direct? God knows that approving the daughters’ case would change the role of women in all of Jewish history. Why was there no hesitation, bargaining, debt to be made? In Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, God is seen with both genders. Usually we see God in the Tanakh, the Bible, as a male. “Blessed be he, our king.” But in the Kabbalah, there’s both a feminine and masculine side of God. The masculine side is strong, forceful, and really only the outer part of things, materialism in the world. The feminine side is deeper. It isn’t the outer, but rather inner beauty: Inner self beauty that wants harmony and peace and strives to create it. The feminine side is a little more abstract.

In the Talmud, there’s a story that says; when the world was first created, the moon and the sun were the same size. The moon was the feminine image and the sun the masculine. The moon came to God and said “this, this doesn’t seem right, because really, Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings really share a single crown?” God replied, “you’re right! Go make yourself smaller.” “ But I made a proper claim before You, and I am to make myself smaller? God said the moon would rule over both the day and the night. “What good am I? What good is lamp in broad daylight?” God said that she would be what Israel used to count the days and the years. And yet the moon still wanted atonement for when God made her smaller. The moon had pointed out a core flaw in creation and stepped up to fight the unjust. God admitted that this situation was unfair and makes a sin offering every month to compensate for the inequity. But it is said that in the time of Moshiach, the Messiah, the moon will “regain her original stature and will be returned to her full glory” (Chana Weisberg).

The moon is a metaphor here for the feminine energy. The moon was reduced like the female population then, and now, in our world. She took a step up to create change much like the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. It will take time, but we are already making progress in our world with women’s rights and helping everyone find their inner beauty and strength. I believe that it will take both the feminine and masculine sides of God in this world because that will create balance and beauty which are the biggest pillars of philosophy in Navajo culture. God knew, when he said yes immediately, this was not just a simple request, this was the daughters of Zelophehad stepping up to make change and what God wants is for everyone to put in effort and soon we may end what is said to be the last part of our six- millennia journey and what it will take is real effort, recognizing inner beauty, and finding true balance.

This one courageous act that the daughters of Zelophehad achieved, really, changed the path of Jewish history and revealed, to me, what God really wants- effort, harmony, balance. The fact that the daughters of Zelophehad could, in a society where women had basically no voice, stand up for what they valued and believed in with logic and emotion to create balance and equity in community, should inspire us all to work to make this a world where women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys, and don’t have to be in fear every single day of their lives.

Now we come back to this question- how? How do we achieve something so huge? The answer is simple- we must continually restore, find, and practice this balance of Hozho, in our everyday lives to create harmony, health, happiness; and we must start with ourselves in the way we think, act, feel. For example, in my life, if there just happens to be a younger sibling, by the name of Sarah who is pestering me while I am, say studying, I would need to first organize my thoughts and not think badly of her, but use logic (she’s only six, she just wants attention, someone to play with, that’s it.) and also use emotion (but I reeeeally don’t want her here, she’s bothering me, she’s going to make me bomb this final, ugh!) and then mix, balance the two together and find a perfect concoction to make her leave me alone: (hey sarah, sweetie, I am so sorry, but I can’t play with you right now, I really need to get this done and you being here makes it a tad harder for me to focus, but if you please let me study then I will play with you afterwards- I promise.) and that creates harmony and happiness in my environment.

But sadly, I hardly ever do this. As a teen, any balance of emotion and logic is not very easy to achieve. Being a teenager is something that completely counter attacks the Hozho philosophy. I sometimes use logic in my everyday social life. This is probably 40% of the time. The rest of time it is emotion, emotion, and emotion. But as I become a woman, I must begin to practice this to make my life whether it be with myself, my family, my community better for me and for the people around me, much like the daughters of Zelophehad did.

Also, to create even more harmony and happiness and beauty, I have decided to do my Bat Mitzvah project on making our wonderful shul look even more beautiful. I helped plant flowers around our land to make the feeling that we are home even stronger. Really, sometimes the greater, more difficult things in life to accomplish can be achieved by doing such small acts and stepping up, like the daughters of Zelophehad did to Moses and God, and the way the Moon stepped up to God, they way I stepped up and spoke my mind to my sister (not that that’s very hard).

But simple or not, we all must make an effort and find a balance of emotion and logic. So I challenge you to go out there at Kiddush, tonight, tomorrow, whenever, to start to create Hozho in your life- think before you speak, make it count, be in harmony with all that is around you- physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to create harmony in our flawed world and in a couple centuries from now, a young Jewish girl will be having her Bat Mitzvah right here and speak about how in 2014, a group of strong people put the world back together because they took a step up and found their balance and beauty- their Hozho. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Yasher koach, Lila! 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

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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