By: Brenda Beck
My name is Mahla and I have 4 sisters named Noah, Hoglah, Milca, and Tirzah. Down through the centuries Rabbis have written many praises about us, that we are wise and virtuous, that we are like the daughters of kings, fine and worthy.
Our father’s name was Zelophehad. He was a descendant of Joseph. Our family has a great lineage. Our father was a good man, but he died in the desert without entering the Promised Land.
My sisters and I have no brothers and this is an important part of our story.
We heard that the portions of land, Erez Israel, were to be divided among the tribes in accordance with the men, but not among the women. My sisters and I are not married, and as I mentioned, we have no brothers. Since our father is dead and we don’t have husbands or brothers, my sisters and I are among the least powerful members of the community.
We talked about what we should do to claim the portion of land that would have gone to our father. My sisters and I decided that we would make the claim for ourselves.
We went to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, Israel’s holy shine and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, before the chieftains and the entire congregation. We were reluctant to appear in public, but we overcame our modesty because we were focused on truth and a higher good. We thought we saw something that Moses, the greatest prophet who ever lived did not. We said:
“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against God, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name, his land and property, be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen! If we are as important as a son, give us a portion as a son.”
This is not the first time we have spoken up for ourselves. All of our lives our mother taught all of us to think for ourselves, to stand up for what we believed. She wanted to make sure that we could take care of ourselves, whether or not we had a husband or brother to take care of us.
She also taught us the importance of making a proper appeal to the authorities. We could have taken a “poor me” attitude, being left alone with no promise of provision, but this was not the way we were raised.
My sisters and I worked hard together, supporting each other through difficult times, such as this, just as our mother taught us.
Moses heard the justice of our complaint and brought our case to God, who spoke to Moses saying, “The daughter’s of Zelophehad speak rightly. Give them a hereditary portion of land alongside their father’s brothers. Let their father’s hereditary property thus pass over to them. Speak to the Israelites and say to them: if a man dies and has no sons, his hereditary property shall pass over to his daughter.”
As directed by God, since this is hereditary property, we five sisters can now bestow this land as an inheritance onto others, to our own sons — or daughters, if we have no sons.
My sisters and I, with not a brother nor father to speak for us, saw an unjust system and proposed a more equitable law. God approved of our proposal and created a new law, extending this decree as a law for all generations. Daughters now take precedence over other family members where there are no sons.
Also, because of what my sisters and I did, a new law was actually created, not merely applied. This law was first proposed by people – by women – then confirmed, approved and extended by God as Torah.
My sisters and I simply sought what we thought was rightfully ours. We wanted to make sure that our father’s name not be written out of history and now the story of Zelophehad’s daughters has entered history itself.