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Parshat Pinchas: Speak Truth to Power

Speak Truth to Power

This week’s Torah portion has a small and not so well-known but crucial episode of Jewish history. The Israelites were about to enter The Promised Land and divide it amongst the twelve tribes. Upon its execution, a band of sisters felt overlooked and a resulting claim of inheritance for part of the land of Israel was made by the five daughters of Tzeloph’chad.

The daughters of Tzeloph’chad…came close and stood in front of Moshe, and in front of Elazar the High Priest, and in front of the Princes (of the 12 tribes) and in front of the entire assembly at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. “Our father died in the desert … and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be absent from among his family because he hadn’t a son? Give us a possession (of the land) among our father’s brothers.”  

Moshe brought their claim before God. God said to Moshe, “The daughters of Tzeloph’chad are totally right – you certainly must give them a possession of inheritance.”

Upon careful reading of this passage we witness the bravery exhibited by these sisters. The Torah goes out of its way to note that these women didn’t mail off a petition to the government, hoping that maybe some bureaucrat might take note of their issue. No, they didn’t go about this in any such meek manner but as the Torah clearly states, they spoke up and made their case in front of all the heavy-hitters: The great Moshe himself, the High Priest Elazar, the twelve tribal princes and in a very public forum “of the entire assembly of people” – all in earshot of the Tent of Meeting. 

It wasn’t simply that these women had a justifiable claim for that which was rightfully theirs. What is extraordinary is how much they believed in their claim and their cause by their fearless behavior. It was a bold act of incredible certitude to stand before this illustrious group. And not only that, but right before the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting no less. That would have only added to the intimidation factor since the Mishkan was not only the central structure around which the Jewish people encamped but also the very spot that God would speak with Moshe. The Mishkan was a mini Mount Sinai. And so it was in this setting and before such important people, among the masses as well, that they made their claim. 

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l used to say that this event is an example of the inherent power one wields when you know you’re right, a notion that has become popularized of late with the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power.” If you know you are correct and your cause is just, it makes no difference what the society around you may be saying, or in this case, omitting. One should never assume that just because the powers-that-be don’t take the initiative to do something, that it should not be done. Right is right even when no one has taken notice.

It never crossed the mind of these brave women, “Well one of these great men would have thought of it. I mean, if we are supposed to get a part of Israel surely these just and upstanding leaders would have considered it if we indeed had a legitimate case”. No, no such thoughts. They weren’t concerned with the credentials or position of anybody when it came to the fact that their family was being unjustly denied, causing them to lose out as the aggrieved party. They were willing to confront and take on the entire powerful establishment, at the seat of power no less. 

And they did. And they won. 

The heroic act of these women serves as fearless examples for us in our day and age when we are called upon to speak up for what is true and right, especially about the very thing that these women spoke up about: Eretz Yisrael – The Land of Israel. We too need to follow their lead and defend the land and people of Israel against the lies and distortions made against her. It matters little what the entire world may be saying about Israel and the spurious claims that settlements are the main impediment to peace with the Palestinian. We cannot and should not allow ourselves to be distracted nor swayed by the bias exhibited from the United Nations, European leftists, The New York Times and the world at large who find fault with every detail of Israel. 

We must never tire about pointing out the sheer hypocrisy and blatant lies in the UN’s constant demonizing of Israel. Daily we hear of Russian bombings that have killed hundreds and now thousands of innocents in Ukraine for five months now. Imagine if it were Israel were doing this to Palestinians in Gaza. Different world reaction, don’t ya think? Or how about China putting over a million Uyghurs in concentration camps and brainwashing them to completely wipe out their culture, religion, peoplehood and history? “Oh, China? Pass. Let’s talk about unjust Israel instead.”  

We stand on the side of truth and good and therefore are on the firmest ground possible in our present-day claim for Israel and her right to simply exist in a homeland for the Jewish people and to live in freedom and security like any other nation on the planet. If these women could courageously stand up for their rightful portion of that land and were willing to challenge the greatest leaders ever like Moshe – then we too must do the same today for Israel and stand against those who are not nearly as holy, moral and upright as Moshe and company.  

And just as the Torah states that God Himself testified to the truthfulness and justice of Tzeloph’chad’s daughters and proclaimed that they were 100% correct, so too will He do the same for us in our present-day claims for Israel. All that He requires from us is the same bravery and strength of character that these great women displayed so many years ago.

And who is in your family tree?
Right, you’re bloody well right
You know you got a right to say…

Write your problems down in detail
Take them to a higher place…
Right, quite right, you’re bloody well right

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