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Some Things Are Priceless

July 11, 2020

About 150 years ago, Mark Twain advised, “Buy land; they’re not making it anymore.” Real estate is one of the most valuable assets available. So after thirty nine years of travelling through the desert, and finally nearing the time to enter Eretz Yisrael, who wouldn’t want to make sure to grab a share of the land? So, at first glance, it’s not surprising when the daughters of Tzelophchad approach Moshe, and ask for a share in what would have been their deceased father’s portion. “אבינו מת... למה יגרע שם אבינו מתוך משפחתו כי אין לו בן תנה לנו אחזה בתוך אחי אבינו, Our father died… why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers. (Bamidbar 27:3-4)”

What seems more surprising is how they are praised for this request! The Gemara teaches:

וראויה היתה פרשת נחלות ליכתב על ידי משה אלא שזכו בנות צלפחד ונכתבה על ידן... שמגלגלים זכות על ידי זכאי וחובה על ידי חייב.

The Torah portion regarding the laws of inheritance was fit to have been written through Moshe (as were most of the laws in the Torah), but the daughters of Tzelophchad merited that it was written through them… as merit is brought by means of the meritorious, and liability by means of the liable


When learning the eighth chapter of Bava Basra, one realizes that the foundation for many of the halachos of inheritance are learned through the dialogue between the daughters of Tzelophchad and Moshe. A whole section of the Torah and Halacha is taught through them! And the Gemara explains that this is because of their merit. Apparently, their love and desire to receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael is a sign of righteousness and spiritual greatness. Rashi even compares their love for Eretz Yisrael with that of Yosef. “יוסף חבב את הארץ שנאמר והעליתם את עצמותי גו' ובנותיו חבבו את הארץ שנאמר תנה לנו אחזה, Yosef loved the land, as it says, ‘and bring up my bones [with you to bury in Israel],’ and his descendants [the daughters of Tzelophchad] loved the land, as it says, ‘give us a portion [in the land]. (Rashi Bamidbar 27:1)”


I always wondered, though it feels uncomfortable to ask, maybe they were just interested in the real estate? How is their request any evidence of their love for the land? Maybe they just saw this as an opportunity to make some money! I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the first one bothered by this. In fact, R. Yissocher Fran [1] writes that Rebbetzin Yocheved Rivka Kaminer, wife of the Sfas Emes [2], asked this very question to her young son, Avraham Mordechai, who would one day become the great Imrei Emes [3].


What did the young boy answer? Tzelophchad’s daughters make it clear that their father died because of his sin. “כי בחטאו מת, because of his sin, he died, (Bamidbar 27:3)” they tell Moshe. What was his sin? Our Sages mention two possibilities. Some explain that he was the unidentified man who chopped wood on Shabbos (see Bamidbar 15:32-36). Others suggest that he was among the group of men who, after the sin of the spies, attempted to ascend to Eretz Yisrael against Moshe’s instructions (see Bamidbar 14:39-45). Either way, all seem to agree that he was killed because of a sin that took place at the very beginning of the travels through the desert, about thirty eight years prior to Parshas Pinchas. The young Imrei Emes explained that if the daughters of Tzelophchad had been interested in money, they would have approached Moshe a long time ago! Right after their father’s untimely death they would have been fighting for their right to inherit his money, cattle, and gold and silver, and all of his earthy possessions! He was likely very wealthy, having accrued the riches of the Egyptians while leaving Egypt and at the splitting of the sea. And yet, we don’t read of any such requests. Thirty eight years later, when they’re getting close to Eretz Yisrael, only then do these five righteous women come to Moshe to stake their claim in the land. They were wiling to forego inheritance when it came to material possessions. But when they realized that they might not receive a portion of the Eretz Yisrael, then they approached Moshed to appeal for their rights.


The daughters of Tzelophchad have become the paradigm for what it means to be a lover of Israel. Living in Israel, supporting Israel, and even visiting Israel all require sacrificing money and resources. But the daughters of Tzelophchad teach us the importance of having our priorities straight. Jewels, riches, and money- that wasn’t so important to them. A chance to own a piece of the holy land of Israel? That’s something that is truly priceless.


Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

[2] R. Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, the third Gerrer Rebbe, lived from 1847-1905. He is known by the title of his classic commentary on the Torah, the Sefas Emes.

[3] R. Avraham Mordechai Alter, the fourth Gerrer Rebbe, lived from 1866-1948. He is known by the title of his great work, the Imrei Emes.

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784