A Righteous Inheritance

Yesterday we mentioned the two different censuses held in the desert. We finished with a reference to Korah’s rebellion and the story we will discuss today – the story of the daughters of Zelophehad.

Here is the background of this biblical story:

“Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” (Numbers 27:1-5)

The story is clear, Zelophehad – their father – died without any sons who would inherit his land. However, Zelophehad had five daughters and they argued that they deserved to inhererit their fathers’ land.

If one looks closer at what the daughters of Zelophehad said, one will notice a very interesting thing: ‘Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah.’ In other words, we can learn from their argument that once a person rebels against God, he automatically loses the ownership to his land – a land that was given to him by God.

In fact, we can find excellent evidence for this biblical tradition in another reference in the Hebrew Bible – the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings:

” Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” (1 Kings 21:1-2)

The common perception was that it is not simply property, but rather a property that was given to the family by God, and precisely because of this Naboth said to Ahab the following words:

“The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1 Kings 21:3)

Jezebel – Ahab’s wife – knew about the biblical tradition with regard to how can one lose ownership of his land and sent two people (two alleged witnesses) who said the following:

“Naboth cursed God and the king.” (1 Kings 21:13)

And in this case – exactly the argument raised by the daughters of Zelophehad – Naboth would lose the ownership to his fathers’ land.

Zelophehad’s daughters mentioned another interesting thing about their father’s death –he ‘died for his own sin.’

Rashi – the famous medieval Jewish Bible commentator – explained that what Zelophehad’s daughters meant to say is that their father died for his OWN sin. He did not make the OTHERS die for his sin as happened with Korah and his company.