Next time you’re on google, type in the words - if women ruled the world - and see the results that come up. There are 2 types of pages that you’ll find on your search engine. One set of those pages deal with the subject from a humorous point of view, or, at least they try to. Making light of the suggestion and trying to make fun of what the world would be like. On the other side, there are a number of serious articles dealing with this as a real possibility. In one BBC article, it begins with the sentence "Not so long ago the idea that women might rule the world seemed slightly ridiculous, like something out of science fiction. But in an essay to mark International Women’s Day, political analyst and former White House press secretary, DeeDee Meyer, argues it’s now a topic that can be seriously discussed."
A lot has changed in the place of women in our society over the last few years. But we might see in this week’s Torah portion one of those first important female interventions. In the last few weeks, our Torah has been dominated by men challenging Moses in negative ways. We had Korach and his rebellion, we had Balak and Balaam trying to curse the Israelites and this week we see true religious fanaticism in the person of Pinchas in the aftermath of the murder he committed at the end of last week’s Torah portion.
Against this backdrop, suddenly we read about the daughters of Zelophehad, a family from the tribe of Manasseh, who came before Moses and Eleazar the High Priest, the chieftans and the whole assembly at the entrance of the tent meeting and they said “Our father died in the wilderness, he was not one of the faction, Korach’s faction, which banded together against Adonai, but died for his own sin and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost his clan just because he had no sons, give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen.” Moses takes the matter to God, who says that you should give them a holding amongst their father’s kinsmen. Allowing female inheritance for the first time.
Most of the time, we focus on this important breakthrough in women’s rights. But it’s also worth noting the different way that the daughters of Zelophehad dealt with their issue as opposed to the men we’ve been reading about in the last few weeks of Torah. These women came calmly in a measured way and brought their concern, their challenge to Moses. They did it with words not with rebellion, and at the end of it when Moses took the matter to God, God said that they were right. And actually set up a law as a result of their intervention.
In this way, the daughters of Zelophehad are not just important for women’s rights, they’re also important as an example of how we might deal with challenging situations. We shouldn’t be the revolutionaries of Korach, we should not be the zealots of Pinchas, instead, we need to be like the daughters of Zelophehad. Their female intervention stands counter to all of those male examples and in many ways, elevates our story, our people and us today.