Pinchas 5782 – Newsflash: The Changing of G-d’s ‘Mind’

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

A few weeks ago, Nancy and I were in Israel. A truly fabulous trip! One day, our group went to the Kotel – the Western Wall of the old temple. As you may recall, several years ago, there was a big brouhaha. Women, it seemed, were demanding to be able to pray there. Imagine such a horror – women actually wanted to pray in a similar fashion as men! Well, there was quite an uproar, but the Women of the Wall, as the organizing group was called, wouldn’t quit.

Protests continued, and of all things, a compromise was reached following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court. Today, women have their own special section – right next to the men’s section – where they can pray. And beside that is an egalitarian section, where, while still incomplete as far as its exact boundaries, women and men can actually pray together. Gasp!.

Well, you all know what happened after that? Absolutely nothing! The Wall didn’t come tumbling down. The offending women (and men) were not struck with leprosy. And aside from some die-hard men who continue to rail against these sinful creatures  (They’re not called Jews by these die-hards. They’re actually called Nazis! by these stupid people) things are pretty much mostly quiet on the Western Wall front.

I wonder if these so-called religious people still stone their children to death for disobedience, as the Torah calls for. Oh, that commandment was never meant to be taken literally? I see. So they’re already interpreting the words of the Torah!

In today’s parashah we read about the daughters of Tzelophehad – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tizrah. They sound like sisters, don’t they? Their father died with no male heirs, and the land is thus to be divided among other clans. The daughters make the case to Moses that the land should stay in their own clan, even though this would break with precedent and it would mean that women (women!!) would inherit (inherit!!) the land.

The daughters speak about the good qualities of women – they mention the men’s sex orgies. They also mention that it was the men who always complain about the lack of bread and water, and how it was the men who lacked faith in the Israelites’ ability to conquer the land. Why, some men even refuse to pray with women!

Moses takes the case directly to Gd. “OK ladies. You’ve made your point. Please wait out here while I think this over.” He closes the door. He summons the help of Gd. “Master of the Universe. What should we do?” “You know, Moshe, they have made a good point. Several of them, in fact. Let’s change the law! Let’s not be too obstinate here. Some of my original laws may need some revision. That’s OK. We’re wiser now than we used to be. Even I.” 

“You are changing you mind, O Holy One?”

“Well . . . . yes! I must admit – times have changed, not all circumstances can be foreseen, and so we must be willing to take note of current circumstances and occasionally make some changes. All of us.”

 So here, stuck in the middle of this parashah, with no apparent connection to what comes before or what comes after, comprising fewer than a dozen verses, is this mini drama, in which a profound lesson is taught. This then became our earliest recorded revision of Biblical law, owing to an overriding moral imperative. This is a great example of how our laws, while reverent, are responsive and can sometimes be modified without fundamentally altering the basic character of what it means to be a Jew.

Personal and collective growth is good. Inclusion is good.

This is a great example of how our laws are reverent, yet responsive. In fact, later, in Deuteronomy, Chapter 17, Gd tells Moses that when there is a legal dispute, he should  seek the counsel of judges who will decide on the law . . . in their time! This implies to me that the law must be responsive to the realities of the day – the very hallmark of Conservative Judaism.

I would also suggest to you that the way the law was changed as a result of the persuasion and the arguments put forth by the daughters of Tzelophehad changed the way the Children of Israel thought about women. The message, alas, hasn’t reached all corners of Jewish, and especially Israeli, society. But it’s reached us!