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The Systems of the Jewish Year


By Rabbi Sender Haber

The daughters of Tzelafched were upset because their father had died and there was nobody to inherit his land. They approached “Moshe, Elazar, and the heads of the tribes with their query” (27:1-2). This seems odd. Once they approached Moshe, why would they approach Elazar? Once they approached Elazar (the Kohen Gadol), why would they approach the heads of the tribes? In Bava Basra 119b, there are two approaches. Rav Yoshiyah says that the verse is written out of order. The women approached the lower judges first and then worked their way up, as per Yisro’s system. When the Torah then lists the people asked they are listed in order of importance. Abba Chanan disagrees.

According to Abba Chanan the Posuk is to be taken literally. The daughters actually did approach Moshe, Elazar and all of the heads of the tribes simultaneously.

The Abarbanel tells the story in way that both approaches are true. The daughters began their quest for fairness and an inheritance by going straight to the top. Moshe declined to answer them. He explained that he had put a court system into place. You don’t go straight to the top. You need to start with the lower judges. The daughters went to the lower judges but they deferred the case up to Moshe. This was Moshe’s business, they said. Finally, the daughters took matters into their own hands. They waited until all of the courts were assembled and approached everyone at exactly the same time. Somebody had to answer their question.

Moshe was overcome with mercy for these young ladies. He sidestepped the elaborate system that he had set up and dealt with the issue himself. He also didn’t satisfy himself with what he had already been told on Har Sinai. He too went straight to the top and consulted with G-d.

We need to imagine that there were many questions in the desert. Here, in one of the only instances in history, Hashem gave a ruling as a direct response to an individual’s question.

Systems are good, but sometimes we need to be overcome with mercy. We need to break all of the boundaries and go with whatever it takes.

Anybody who wants to truly appreciate our military should watch a homecoming. Often, the first one hundred sailors of the ship are sailors who have not yet met their newborn children. Can you imagine the feelings in these men’s hearts? Yet they stand like everyone else at perfect attention and in formation until they are ordered to disembark. If you look closely you can see that every one of those sailors is standing stoically, but with tears pouring out of his eyes.

This is how we need to be. We need to keep the rules and defend the system. We also need to be overcome with emotion.

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