My name is Gab Goldenberg and I'm working on a new book about how Judaism's ancient sources provide answers to the burning questions of modern Israel. Get a free chapter on our conflict with the Arab/Muslim world and the overlooked means to achieve peace.

Five young women were orphaned in the Sinai desert.

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Their father, Tzelophchad, had died under mysterious - some say heroic - circumstances during the Israelites' wandering in the desert. Before the Children of Israel were to enter the land of Israel, these young women came to Moses with a request. "Why should our father's name be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us an inheritance among our father's brothers."
 
At the surface level, Ma'hlah, Noah, 'Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, daughters of the righteous Tzelophchad, were asking to inherit their father's portion in the land of Israel. The reference to their father's name being removed seems irrelevant. Why didn't they simply request to inherit? The reason is that something much deeper was at stake.

Bat Ayin (Ain), Gush Etzion Israel landscape by Yair Aronshtam
Bat Ayin (Ain), Gush Etzion, Israel landscape by Yair Aronshtam cc
 
70 Hebrew Faces 


When the Hebrews* (Jacob aka Israel and his family; Jews are Hebrews in exile while Hebrews live in Israel) went down to Egypt, they numbered 70. This number represents the basic assortment of ways in which one can be a Hebrew, the essential variety of Hebrew families. There are 70 base elements in the Periodic Table of Hebrew Elements.


Similarly, there are 70 families of the world which emerge from Noah's descendants. (Israel are not counted amongst these 70… As can be seen to this day at the UN, in the non-Jewish media's double standards on Israel etc.) It is no coincidence that we refer to the Torah as having 70 facets - each one corresponds to one of the "modes" of being a Hebrew and to one of the nations.**


The definition of mankind in Jewish tradition is the living creature doted with speech.*** The families of mankind are divided to this day, which division goes back to the episode of the tower of Babel. The Torah informs us that all shared a language prior to that event and that the split into different languages/nations occurred as a result of it .(Hence "babbling" meaning to speak unintelligible gibberish.) This disunity is symbolic of the current state of the world as we shall see, and Tzelophchad's daughters address it.


When The Hebrews Were Reduced To Fewer Than 70


When the Hebrews wandered in the desert, various individuals and groups committed grave sins for which they paid with their lives. As a result, the Hebrew nation - aka the children of Israel - lost five families, five ways of being a Hebrew.


Torah commentator par excellence Rashi cites Rabbi Moshe the Interpreter ("HaDarshan") in the context of the enumeration of the Hebrews' families, in the Torah portion of Pinchas. Rabbi Moshe points out that we find in this enumeration 65 families. He then quotes the verse "for you are the least of all the nations" and interprets the words "the least" - "hame'at המעט" - as hay-me'at "ה-מעט". Hay is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and thus corresponds to the numerical value five. "Me'at" means "few" in Hebrew. Thus the Hebrews are five fewer than the nations of the world, who number 70.


The Greatness of Tzelophchad's Daughters


Moses asked G-d what to respond to the daughters' request. G-d replied, "The daughters of Tzelophchad speak properly." The Hebrew word used for "properly" is "ken כן" and the numerical value of its letters is 70. In other words, they are "speaking 70," they are speaking about the issue symbolized by the number 70.


What is that issue?


The issue is that there needs to be a correspondence between the 70 nations of the world - 70 ways of "being a society" - and the 70 families of the Children of Israel. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in his midrash, explains that the reason the Torah states that our forefathers numbered 70 souls when they went down to Egypt is to teach this correspondence. Why specify the sum when we could just count the names given? To emphasize they were 70.

(Interestingly, Egypt was the dominant world power of the era and the Pharaoh was required to speak all 70 languages of the nations of the earth.)


By the end of the 40 years in the desert, the Hebrews numbered only 65 families.


The daughters of Tzelophchad mention the issue of their father's name in their request to inherit. They seek not only to have a share in the land of Israel, but to restore their father's "name" amongst his brothers. In practice, they restore five names to the Hebrew nation, five families. And thus the children of Israel, the Hebrew nation, return to numbering 70 families.


In other words, what is the issue hinted at by the number 70?


The issue is no less an endeavour than tikun olam ! Hope for humanity to live in a repaired world. How so?
 
How does one effect tikun olam?


As stated in the Aleynu LeShabeach prayer, "letaken olam beMalchut Sha-dai." "One repairs the world" - read: achieves unity between men - "through the Kingdom of G-d." What does that mean?


In order for G-d to be recognized and accepted by the world as its King, the Hebrews have to play their role. That role is described in the verse, "mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש" - a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Our sages teach that we are meant to be a kingdom of priests relative to the nations of the world, and a holy nation in regards to our relation to G-d and to ourselves. Serving as a priest means acting as an intermediary between man and G-d, just like the priests in the Temple performed the sacrificial services on behalf of others.


Yet we cannot fulfil our role of a kingdom of priests, serving to connect the nations of the world to G-d, if we do not correspond to them. You can't have 65 priestly families serving 70 nations, because 5 nations would be neglected.


By restoring the Children of Israel to number 70 families, the five daughters of Tzelophchad make tikkun olam possible. Instead of a world deprived of meaning where men cannot connect to G-d and cannot understand that there is a reason for their existence, there can be a world where men connect to G-d and live meaningful lives. And a world where mankind can achieve unity, speaking on the same wavelength.


What's The Five Daughters' Message To Us Today?



In order to understand Ma'hlah, Noah, 'Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, we need to turn our attention to the story of another Hebrew heroine, Esther.

Family at Purim by Meyer Potashman
 
Family at Purim by Meyer Potashman cc

In the Book of Esther, there is an evil person who sought the Jews' destruction. He describes the Jewish people as "am echad mefuzar umeforad ben ha'amim עם אחד מפזר ומפרד בין העמים" - "one nation, dispersed and divided amongst the nations."


The turn of phrase is strange. Why mention their quantity - one nation - as opposed to the briefer "a nation," which in Hebrew could be expressed in a single word, am? And if they are dispersed, isn't that the same as saying that they are divided amongst the nations? Why the repetition?


How Dispersion Facilitated Empire Building


The text conveys a surprising situation.

By the time of the Book of Esther, several successive empires had conquered most of the known world. To prevent rebellion and ensure their dominance, the emperors scattered the nations they conquered willy-nilly. Through intermarriage and assimilation, these empires blurred the distinct identities of the nations the conquered, weakening any drives for independence.


In Megillat Esther, the Emperor of Persia and Media (then the dominant world power) is informed by his evil adviser that Babylon's strategy failed for one particular group - the Jews. The adviser remarks on the following strange state of affairs. "One nation, dispersed and divided amongst the nations." There is one - i.e. a single - nation who are dispersed and divided amongst the nations, and yet unlike others, they remain a nation.


What is the qualitative state of that nation, though? "Dispersed and divided amongst the nations." They are geographically spread out, dispersed. And they are divided - each one is pulled towards, identifies with, the nation in which it resides. In other words, they are assimilated.


Similar Effects of Dispersion In Modern Times  

A Russian Jew identifies with the value of equality that the Russian nation holds supreme. This is because - consciously or subconsciously - he recognizes a spark of truth in it. He learned in school: the Hebrews were freed from slavery, a form of inequality. And this Russian Jew then becomes a communist, that is, an equality advocate.


An American Jew identifies with the American value of liberty and becomes a libertarian. Weren't the Hebrew slaves liberated from bondage? He recognizes a spark of truth and fits in great. We're experts at fitting in, we're the shoehorn's shoehorn!


Evidently, this approach is fatally flawed as seen by the fact that it leads to diametrically opposite conclusions.

Not to mention it never works out for the Jews. The French Jew thought he found liberty, equality and fraternity. French Christians treated Dreyfus the French Jew unequally; Vichy took away the Jews' liberty, and the three million Frenchmen who marched fraternally against terror … did not march when the victims of terror were French Jews.

The Jews Are Divided, An Unnatural State For The People Whose Fundamental Message Is About Unity
 
To return to our subject, the Persian King's adviser points out the painful truth: The Jews are divided. This division is "amongst the nations" - amongst what the 70 nations represent - 70 competing values. 


Returning to ancient Persia, there's a very unhealthy situation for the Jewish people. The sworn enemy of the Jews gleefully recounts the sorry state of his enemies to the king, himself no lover of Jews. "There is one nation in the empire that wasn't done in by assimilation. But they're dispersed and weakened by rifts, i.e. they adopt as their own the values of each nation amongst which they dwell. Let's get 'em!"


The children of Israel are not in their natural state, when divided by assimilation. In fact, this assimilation is how Judaism defines idolatry: "Sacrificing to one value is to sacrifice all the others." (- Rav Yehuda Leon Askenazi)

Rav (Rabbi) Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Askenazi) aka Manitou 
Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi aka Manitou via Danilette

 
The kabbalists teach that Jacob symbolizes the value known as Tiferet. Tiferet is the synthesis of the values represented by Abraham, lovingkindness, and Isaac, justice. Just as all values come from the one G-d, so too men are tasked with embracing all values [insofar as they are truly valuable, which can be determined by verifying if they are espoused by the Torah.]
 
For example, G-d is the source of reward and punishment. As we say in the daily prayers, "oovoreh et hakol - [...] and who creates all." He's not just a sugar daddy who gives us nice things; he rewards and punishes. Indeed there is a blessing upon hearing of a person's passing, acknowledging G-d as Dayan HaEmet, the Judge of Truth. There isn't a god of mercy and one of judgment, one of light and darkness. That is paganism. 


The children of Israel carry this knowledge and monotheistic message of a unitary G-d with them in their very beings. Jacob, aka Israel, synthesizes the two counterbalancing values of lovingkindness and justice, into Tiferet. 


The problem with the nations of the world is that they are divided. Each one represents a certain way of being, which emphasizes one value over all others.


The Jew (the identity of the Hebrews whilst in exile), who has inherited from his ancestors the tradition of all of G-d's values, easily recognizes something holy in and identifies with the value of the nation in which he finds himself. He sees a spark of truth. The Russian Jew identifies with the value of equality and becomes a communist. The American Jew identifies with the value of liberty and becomes a libertarian.


Clearly, exile has confused the Jews and tikun olam can't happen while they are in exile.
 
Why not?


When the Jews are in exile, they are divided. And so divided, they cannot convey the message of the unity of values, because they forget their message. Instead, they adopt as their own the value their host nation espouses as most important. They are divided amongst the nations' values.


Accordingly, the daughters of Tzelophchad both seek to restore the Hebrew nation to 70 families and seek an inheritance in the land of Israel. That is the location where the 70 Hebrews can be united.


There are a variety of proofs that the 70 Hebrew faces can unite in Israel:


a. Our sages teach that Jerusalem makes all of Israel friends, i.e. unites the nation - When? At the time when all 12 tribes ascend to Jerusalem. (T.B. Chagigah 21A)


b. In the Second Book of Shmuel, Chapter 7, Verse 23, we find in reference to Israel: "one nation in the land." When is it one nation? When it is in the land, i.e Israel.


c. In the book of Isaiah, the nations of the world themselves say that Hebrew unity will happen in Israel. The prophet foretells that the nations will seek spiritual instruction from Israel, which the nations express as "ki mitzion tetzeh Torah udvar HaShem miYerushalayim." "For from Zion shall go out Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem."

Recall that Israel's role is to be a nation of priests, acting as intermediaries between G-d and the 70 nations. That is how we achieve tikkun olam. Torah can go out to the 70 nations in its 70 facets only if the 70 Hebrew families are in Israel. The prophecy states that the nations will seek to hear about the unity of 70 values that is true monotheism, from that message's source in Jerusalem.


The Forgotten Message of Tzelophchad's Five Orphaned Daughters


The message of the daughters of Tzelophchad is simple: tikkun olam - achieving world unity - requires all 70 Hebrew families, in the land of Israel.

--- 


p.s. I'm working on a new book about how Judaism's ancient sources provide answers to the burning questions of modern Israel. 
Get a free chapter on our conflict with the Arab/Muslim world and the overlooked means to achieve peace.

Footnotes:

* We refer to these Hebrews in an un-historic ("anachronistic" for those who like $5 words) way as being "Jewish," an identity which only came into being when the Jews were exiled. See here for an explanation of Hebrew identity, and the revolutionary meaning it has for the world: http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Hebrew-In-Jerusalem/identity-488110

**  There are multiple families in each of the 12 tribes. The division into 12 tribes has its own significance, which is a subject unto itself.

*** For example, Onkelos translates man as nefesh memalela - the soul that speaks in Genesis )
 
Dedicated first and foremost to my father and teacher Elliot Ephraim Goldenberg, on the occasion of his 72nd birthday, for all he's done for me. Enumerating all of that would be impossible so I won't start. Our love and best wishes that H' bless you and mom bakol, mikol kol. Also dedicated le'iluy nishmat Rabbi Yehudah Leon Askenazi, whose ideas inspired much of this essay, and to Rabbi Daniel Askenazi, Rabbi Yehuda Leon's brother. Rabbi Daniel recently passed away. He was a charming man and taught midrash in a mesmerizing, deep way, very much like his brother. Finally this is dedicated le'iluy nishmat my prof. Dr. Pessach Schindler, who also recently passed away. Dr. Schindler, who taught many students at Hebrew University's Rothberg International School, exposed me to fascinating contemporary issues in Halacha through the eponymous book by Rabbi J. David Bleich, and his encouragement gave me my first taste of the sweetness of researching Torah subjects in depth.


I would like also to acknowledge the extremely generous editing and scholarly insights of Mr. Joseph Gabay, as well as the assistance of Rabbi Yoseph Attoun.


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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