Parashat Pinehas: The Daughters of Israel and their Love for the Land of Israel

Ask author
June 30 2009

Chapter 26 of the Book of Numbers describes the census of the children of Israel that was held in the fortieth year of their travels in the desert, just before they were about to enter the Land of Israel. At the end of the census, the Torah states:

These are the persons enrolled by Moses and Eleazar the priest who registered the Israelites on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan, near Jericho. Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. For the L-RD had said of them,  “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them survived, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. (Numbers 26:63-65)

According to the simple reading of these verses, the term not one refers to both men and women. Hazal, however, homiletically interpret that the decree that the Israelites of the generation of the desert should all die only applied to men, not to women. They deduce that only the women possessed a strong love of the Land of Israel (See Rashi to Numbers 26:64, and see Tanhuma, [Solomon Buber ed.] to Numbers 27:4, and see Sifre, Numbers [ed. Horovitz], to Numbers 27:1 amd 27:4) Amplifying this Midrash of Hazal, R. Solomon Ephraim Luntshitz, author of the seventeenth century commentary Keli Yaqar on the Torah, discusses this notion at length, in his comments on Numbers 26:64. First, he presents the position of the men in remarkably strong terms. The men did not merit entering the land, he writes, because they hated Eretz Israel, as the verse (regarding the spies) states: And they said to one another, “let us head back for Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4) The women, on the other hand, cherished the land, as the verse pertaining to the daughters of Zelophehad states: Give us a holding [in Eretz Yisrael]. (Numbers 27:4)

Keli Yaqar offers two interpretations of the notion that davka women and not men possessed this extraordinary love for Israel.  His interpretations contain a unique blend of typological categories, ta‘amei ha-mitzvoth (reasons for commandments of the Torah) structural hypostatization of comments of Hazal, and assessments of human psychological attitudes. 

His first explanation connects the notion of human tzeniut, modesty with respect to sexual behavior, with different locales on the globe. (One is reminded of Rav Yehudah Ha-Levi’s explanation that the fact that the land that is most propitious for prophecy is Eretz Yisrael is itself connected with the unique climate of the land: in the Kuzari’s thought as well, a feature of human behavior is organically connected with properties of a certain place on the globe). Eretz Yisrael, the Keli Yaqar claims, naturally is a land that is propitious for the growth of modest people. On the other hand, Shittim (located in Jordan), where the Israelite men sinned with the daughters of Moab, is a place that is conducive to immoral sexual behavior

(See Numbers 25:1-2: While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god.)

Hazal (Ba-Midbar Rabbah 20:22) declare that the sojourn of the children of Israel in Shittim was a cause of their succumbing to sexual sins. On the other hand, the Torah states that the land of Israel cannot tolerate sexual immorality, and therefore the land “vomited” its inhabitants the Canaanites, who were sexually immoral.

Because the men of Israel were perutzim ba-arayot, because they were sexually promiscuous, they hated the land of Israel. Conversely, because the women of Israel were modest, they loved the land. A proof to this notion, R. Luntshitz writes, is the fact that the Torah singled out Shelomith bat Dibri (Leviticus 24:11, with the amplification of Hazal’s traditions on this score) as a lone immodest woman.

This is why the Torah states that there was no man, no ish counted in the second census that was also counted in the first one. The use of the masculine pronoun ish is purposeful. Only the men, who were promiscuous and therefore could not love Eretz Israel, died. The women, one the other hand, were modest, and therefore loved the land of modesty, i.e., Israel, and therefore lived to enter the Land.

The second explanation of Keli Yaqar takes into account the fact that rain is more common in Israel than in Egypt and the surrounding lands. Farmers in Egypt have to irrigate their fields by themselves, and much effort is entailed. R. Luntshitz suggests that the reason why terumot u-ma‘aserot (the biblically mandated agricultural gifts to the Kohen and Levi) are not obligatory in these lands outside Israel is precisely because there so much effort is necessary in producing crops. Consequently, it would be to psychologically hard for the farmers to give a part of their crops away to the Kohen or Levi who did not work at all to produce them. One the other hand, in Israel, the owners of the crops know that they did not do all the work. God (in a manner of speaking) provided His share of the work by sending the rain to water the growing crops. Thus, even though the Israelites contributed the plowing, planting, harvesting, etc., the very fact that they did knew that they did not do all the work and nonetheless achieved fully grown crops makes it psychologically easier for them to give terumot u-ma’aserot to the Kohanim and Leviyyim. Keli Yaqar quotes Deuteronomy 11:10-12 on this score:

For the land which you are about to invade and occupy is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and occupy, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which the L-RD your God looks after, on which the L-RD your God always keeps His eye, from years beginning to year’s end.

The Hebrew word that is translated as looks after in the JPS translation is doresh: The Yalqut to Parsahat Eqev (# 860) comments that davka the produce of that land (Israel) is appropriate for derishah, i.e., to take a portion of the produce and to give it as terumot u-ma ‘aserot, and not that of other lands. Keli Yaqar asserts that it is “obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and an intellect (literally, heart) to understand” that the Yalqut is providing a reason why the mitzvoth ha-teluyyot ba-aretz of terumot u-ma‘aserot are indeed limited to Israel. Since in Israel, part of the work was performed by God, it is indeed appropriate that some of the produce be given in return to His representatives, that is, the Kohanim and Leviyyim.

Returning to why davka men were barred from entering Israel but women were allowed the privilege, R. Luntshitz remarks that the men hated the land because they hated to give charity. The men cried:  We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (Numbers 11:5) Hazal are doresh that they were really saying that this food was free from the obligation to give terumot u-ma‘aserot. And that is why the Torah singled out those species of foods (cucumbers, etc.). The reason is because these foods are exempt from terumot u-ma‘aserot even on the rabbinic level!

The righteous women of that generation, on the other hand, loved to give charity. Not only did they love to separate hallah, a mitzvah particularly relevant to them, but they loved to give the charity expressed in all terumot u-ma‘aserot. Therefore, they loved the fact that they would be entering a land where the giving of such agricultural gifts was obligatory. As they knew that their real estate (with the attending crops) would legally belong to their husbands and not to them, they desired to enter a land where their husbands, at least, would be obligated to give charity. This is the meaning, R. Luntshitz declares, behind the statement of Hazal that it was due to the merit of the righteous women of the generation that the children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b). The point is not just that they left Egypt. The point is also that they went davka to Israel, a land that would have an obligation of agricultural tzedakah placed upon their crops, and the desire of the women to give tzedakah would be fulfilled. And this is why the daughters of Zelophehad cried, Give us a holding [in Eretz Yisrael]. (Numbers 27:4)

After providing two explanations why davka the women of the previous generation merited to enter the Land, Keli Yaqar points out that these traits, modesty and abstention from sexual immorality on the one hand and beneficence, kindness, and generosity in the matter of giving charity on the other, were both characteristic of Joseph “the tzaddiq.” (To be sure, this notion may already be adumbrated in Rashi and the Sifre to Numbers 27:1. These sources, however, only state that Joseph loved the land. They do not make the further equation between the specific traits of Joseph and the traits of the daughters of Zelophehad. Keli Yaqar does).  Joseph’s resistance against Potiphar’s wife’s seductive charms illustrated his iron discipline in the matter of sexual behavior. On the other hand, his generosity in feeding the nation of Egypt during the famine expressed his desire to give charity to the poor. His descendants, the daughters of Zelophehad, inherited both traits. Therefore, they yearned for an inheritance in the Land of Israel.

The Book of Numbers concludes with the report that the daughters of Zelophehad married men from the tribe of Joseph. Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, Zelophehad’s daughters, were married to sons of their uncles, marrying into clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph; and so their share remained in the tribe of their father’s clan (Numbers 36:110-12). Hazal comment that these righteous women married men who were fitting for them. For his part, Keli Yaqar concludes his exposition by commenting that they married individuals who, like them, were careful not to transgress any violations of sexual immorality, and who were lovers of charity. And in adhering to the moral law of abstention from immorality, they were indeed “wise.


    More from this:
    Leave a Comment