I have two sisters, and well, that song in “White Christmas” (Sisters, sisters, never were there such devoted sisters..) ain’t just a song…it’s a mantra that, yes, we used to perform as kids. We are all SO different, oh my, how did we ever come from the same family? Yet, when it comes to the sisters, watch out, which is something the men in our lives have learned, probably the hard way.
Sisters are a big part of this week’s parasha, Pinchas. We begin with the ending of last week’s violent story of the priest Pinchas. He came upon an Israelite man and a Midianite woman “skewering” in front of God and everyone, and in a zealous rage, Pinchas skewered them to death. This act of violence put a stop to more violence: there was plague that was afflicting the people, which stopped as soon as Pinchas put an end to the PDA. It also prevented Moses from carrying out God’s order to impale other ringleaders in the community who were also hanging out with foreign women. It was sort of like starting a backfire to stop a wildfire, and it worked.
Soon, however, the focus of the Parasha shifts to the five sisters, the daughters of Zelophechad. Their names were Machlah, Noa, Choglah, Milcha, and Tirzah. It’s important to list their names; the Torah does it three times, full out, no shortcuts. They had no brothers. Their father had died in the wilderness, but he was a good man, because, as the sisters are quick to point out, he was not involved in the Korach rebellion. Now, here’s Moses beginning to parcel out the land parcels, and it’s all set to go through sons in each tribe. “What?” the sisters said to themselves, “we get nothing because we just have no brothers?” These five women walked right up to the seat of power: “Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the chieftains and the whole assembly at the Tent of Meeting” (Num. 27:2) and boldly declared that this wasn’t fair; they claim+ed their share. Can you imagine five sisters walking up to a joint session of Congress and stopping the nation’s business with their plea for justice? And actually getting heard? And getting their case resolved in their favor??
Like I said, don’t mess with sisters.
Both Pinchas and the sisters stood up and acted for what they thought was right and justIt’s interesting to note that, at this critical juncture between wandering and settling, we have these two ways of handling things that were seen as wrong. One chose violence, the others chose civil protest. Pinchas’ focus was on God; the sisters focused on community. Pinchas acted alone, and his kind of response was never rewarded again. Clearly, this kind of individual vigilantism wasn’t going to work in the new land. The path that would work was that of the sisters. Theirs was the one that brought about legal changes in the society, the society that was going to be set up once they crossed that borderline. The actions of Machla, Noa, Cheglah, Milcha, and Tirtza were the kinds on which to build a just community. That’s the lasting legacy of the sisters – standing up for what’s right, speaking out against injustice, and making lasting changes for a kehila tzedakah, a just and righteous society.