Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing the Torah of Mankind

היום אחד ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבהוד
A day of compassion in a week of humility

When describing the Daughters of Tzelophchad in an earlier post about the Avivah Zornberg teaching session, I said: "These women, whom I have dubbed "Women with Chutzpah" stood up for their right of inheritance." While this is the only time in Torah where women make a legal claim, Dr. Zornberg makes the point that in its context, it's a relatively minor achievement. Yesterday, she brought to light something else for women to celebrate when studying this story--something far less obvious but very powerful.

After the Daughters state their case, Moshe has no answer for them--he takes their case to God. And God says "Yes" to the words of the Daughters, telling Moshe to give the women their inheritance (Num 27:5-7). And then God takes Moshe up to Har Ha'Avarim, which Dr. Zornberg translates here as "the Mountain of Crossings," to prepare for Moshe's passing.

Why didn't Moshe have a ruling? Didn't he know the law? A midrash says no, he did not--yet the women did. And the Kabbalists say that it is this change in "who knows what," that marks the shift from the absolute Torah of Moshe to the transformational, oral Torah of the Israelite people. It is then that the people began to take the Torah of God and its teachings to create the Torah of Mankind as part of their inheritance.

It is when the Daughters speak, take the risk of standing up in front of all the people, of all the chieftains, when they find their voice and stake their future in Eretz Yisrael, that the world of the Israelites steps into that new era. And so, Dr. Zornberg concludes, the feminist angle of this text is not due to a legal concept, but because it is these women are the first authors of the Torah in this new mode. Moses cannot venture further--it is not his place; it is the women who lead this part of the journey into the new world.

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