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Righting an Injustice

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I love when things happen that mimic something in the Bible. It makes the story come alive and show its relevance. Here is a case in point and the timing is spot on. We recently finished reading the Torah portion of Pinchas. One of the events in this portion was the five daughters of Zelophehad asking for an inheritance of land. They appealed before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 27:1-2).  They claimed that it was not fair that when the land of Israel would be divided, according to the census, their father’s share would not go to them. This would result in the continuity of their father’s name being lost because no land would be awarded to the family. They noted that their father did not die as part of Korah’s rebellion against Moses, which would have shed a bad light on him. (Although he did die from a personal sin.)
These women, Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, did not fall back on the slave mentality, which at the time, would have been more than understandable, since they had just been released from slavery. Nor did they accept that men rule the courts, the homes and who knows what else. They recognized a problem, came up with a plan and executed it.
The sisters, did not just mumble among themselves, nor did they call an official aside and ask a question or complain. They decided to speak up – and to the highest level of court! They went to Moses, where he sat with other high officials at the Tent of Meeting, where the Ten Commandments rested. These women, were not just there to complain. They knew and understood the law and its ramifications. They expressed themselves and supported their claim. Moses, recognized their seriousness and the seriousness of their claim and he brought their case before God. God agreed with the sisters allowing daughters to inherit the land, should there be no sons and gave a contingency plan should there also be no daughters.
This July, right around the time when we read in the Torah about the daughters of Zelophehad, the Supreme Court in British Columbia, Canada overturned a case in which four daughters challenged the will of their parents. The will, worth nine million dollars, left the bulk of the money to the two sons. (Before you get upset with the brothers, you should know that they did not mind giving their sisters more than the will specified, but they could not agree on the amount to give them.) The original will, left less than seven percent to all the daughters combined. Even though each daughter was to receive $150.000, it was out of proportion to the $4.2 million each son was to inherit. The daughters claimed that they helped the family as much as the sons and sometimes more. The parents, especially the mother (this is not a mistake, it was the mother), just did not value girls as much as boys.
The Supreme Court judge increased the daughters’ inheritance to $1.35 million each, leaving the sons each $1.8 million. The disparity was due to the parents’ wishes that the sons would get more. (British Columbia adopted a law in 1920 which allows its judges to change a will to make it, “adequate, just and equitable” to the person’s spouse and children.
Here we see four daughters who also spoke up to the authorities in a respectful way, while clearly setting forth their well formulated argument.  In this modern day case, as well as in the Torah, the daughters were listened to and won their cases.
It is easy to complain. It is harder to do something about our complaints. The daughters of Zelophehad and these Canadian daughters should be an inspiration to us. When we see injustices, identifying them isn’t enough. We need to do something about them. But, we need to know the laws, who to go to get the injustice changed and how to present our case. Whether you feel an injustice at work, at home or in the synagogue; check out the laws, or at least think about what would be fair, decide in a calm manner who is best to address the injustice, think out carefully how to word your argument and proceed.
Whether you’re a man or a woman feeling an injustice, do something about it – other than just complaining. But do it smartly. Even if you never hear a word of praise, many people will thank you, just as we are still thinking the daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
 
 
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for the Second Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs.
 
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
 
 

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