Pinchas - weekly Torah portion

Two seemingly different events are described in chapter 27 of the book of Numbers from which we read the Torah portion of this week. The fist even is the case of the daughters of Zelophehad. The five daughters, appearing by name, “Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah” argue before Moses and Eleazar the priest, “Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” I am confident all of us remember that the judicial system of the time had multiple layers before issues were put before Moses. There is no description of what happened before the case was brought to Moses but it is fair to assume that if it was in their favor that they would have not have to get all the way to Moses. Maybe they received decisions against them and maybe the lower ranks decided that this one was to complex for them to make a decision. No matter how, the case landed in Moses lap waiting for a decision.

It may seem a simple case – at the time women had not property rights and what would have been simpler than simply continue with what was known in the past? But Moses decides that this is the case where a higher authority must make a decision. This connects us to the second event which we read of in the very same chapter. Moses is ordered, “Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was”. It is a result of disobeying the Godly order to speak to the rock and request water. Moses, in response, requests some quite unexpected, he does not beg for a change of sentence but rather requests, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”

In both cases where there is a need for a significant change Moses requests guidance and does not make the decision by himself. Each of these decisions has a significant impact and therefore there is importance to the manner by which the decision is made and the level in which such a decision is made. One may think it is a way to escape from taking on a responsibility for fundamental change but I would like to suggest that this is not the case. Moses fully understands that change is necessary but its level is greater than himself. It is essential that everybody will accept the change, regardless of whether we are speaking of inheritance laws or the next leader to succeed Moses. Moses was lucky enough to have a direct communication with the Lord, he could have received the answer that would lead the change.

We, today, do not enjoy Moses’ privilege of direct communication with God. Therefore we must contemplate issues ourselves, discuss them with others, and elect such leadership that will enable us to reach sound decisions in a plurality of issues. As long as these decisions are within our comfort zone they tend to be quite easy. We can use precedent, walk through administrative of judicial systems, and even take the advantages of democracy to the Knesset. This is also true for us in the Reform Movement when we want to drive change and exert influence.

Following the attempts of the Israeli government to freeze the agreement on the Kotel and change the conversion law we will need to campaign during the next few months to raise awareness to these and other issues. It is time to hit the streets and clearly raise our voice in the public sphere. We say clearly “enough is enough, it is time to stop the Haredi attempt of conquest, let us free the Wall”. Until the case is discussed, once more, before the Supreme Court of Israel on 30 July, we will be demonstrating in various junctions of the country to plead our case for equality and religion freedom in the State of Israel. This coming Thursday between 5:30-7:30 pm we will meet in Tel Aviv at the Arlozoroff junction, at the Raanana junction, and at the Horev junction in Haifa. We will raise our voice high and loud demanding change, forwarding pluralism in Israel, and making it crystal clear that “there is more than one way to be Jewish”. Israel must accept that not by surrender but rather in an embrace of a Jewish reality. The Haredi Jew has as much right to live in his or her way as we in the Reform Movement should have. This should be done so that corrupting partisan powers do not influence basic human rights. Moses is order to take “Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit”. Today such a Spirit must be within each and every one of us so that we can lead and that we can bequest these values onwards.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 21 Tamuz 5777, 14 July 2017

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