- Hillels of Georgia
Becca Frischling - 7/10/2020
Hi all! Just to introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me, my name is Becca, and I’m heading into my sophomore year here at Emory. I was a member of FYC this past year at Hillel and will be part of Shabbat Committee for this coming year. I’m excited to be able to give a d’var today because during these last few months of quarantine I’ve really been missing the bonds I’ve made at Hillel, and I was happy to take any opportunity to recreate some of that experience, even over Facebook live. Like many of us, the amount that I miss my campus community and the power that communities have in our lives has been on my mind a lot recently. I honestly think that this feeling has influenced a lot in my life recently, including my reading of the Torah portion in preparation for today.
This week’s portion is called Pinchas, and many aspects of what I read reminded me both of my experience in the Jewish community, and the broader communities that I belong in or seek to understand and support. Part of Pinchas starts with something that seems very fitting with my past experiences with Torah portions: taking a census. I’m not sure how universal this experience is to the Jewish community, but at least in my family, we have not had the best luck in terms of interesting torah portions. My torah portion for my bat mitzvah was essentially an explanation of death from leprosy, followed by instructions for serious observance of Yom Kippur, and my sister’s parshat was a set of instructions about agriculture and crop rotation. So, when I began to read about a census, I wasn’t surprised or particularly engrossed in the story, as much of my relatively limited Torah experience has been about similar regulations and administrative needs.
Pinchas gets a lot more interesting very quickly, however. In Pinchas, Moses takes a census of the Isrealites and works to create a system of land division, in which land is allocated to father’s of families, or to sons who have become the heads of their families. During this process, five sisters explain that their father, Zelophehad, had died in the wilderness, and asked if they, as his only descendants, could claim the land that would have been entitled to him. In the portion, it says that God accepts their claim, and incorporates this right into the Torah’s laws of inheritance. Upon reading this, my interest in the passage was immediately increased. Finding an example of activism and progress in the Torah was very exciting to me, and of course, I always like it when I can find examples of strong Jewish women. But thinking about the significance of the change made by Zelophehad’s daughters in this story is really important to me, and in my opinion very relevant to our current world.
It’s hard enough to stand up to injustice when it is being perpetrated by an individual; if someone is spouting hatred, it can be scary and overwhelming to put yourself in a vulnerable position by speaking up. That fear and risk is magnified many times over when the injustice is being perpetrated on a systemic level, rather than just an individual level. I found the strength demonstrated by Zelophehad’s daughters in this parashat inspiring, as well as a good example of the importance of community in standing up for what is right. In the story, the daughters all stand together with no rivalry or competition in the attempt to change the law for the better. Not only are these sorts of positive sibling relationships rare in the Torah – not exactly in the same pattern as Cain and Abel – it also serves as a reminder that we all need to unite our communities and work together to create meaningful change.
Throughout history, many groups have been excluded from the law in the same ways as Zelophehad’s daughters in this story. This is something that we know all too well as Jews. Hearing this portion today and appreciating the actions of the strong women within this story caused me to reflect on the exclusionary laws placed against women in both the past and the present. Though we’ve come a long way from not even having the right to vote, it is plainly obvious in society how far we still have to go, and there is no question whatsoever that women’s rights are not the only ones in society that need to be advanced in order to achieve justice.
As we have all learned more about the many ways systemic racism is ingrained into our society in America throughout these past few months, it is becoming ever more clear that one person or one group cannot fix this problem alone. We have to both unite the members of our own communities and connect with members of other communities in order to make progress. As Jewish people, with the values of Tikkun Olam and our experience as a persecuted minority throughout history, it is especially important to make this effort. On the same token, the rise of anti-semitism in this country cannot be ignored, and we need the support of other communities to defeat this form of hatred as well. We all can learn from Zelophehad’s daughters the importance of using our voices for change, as well as the necessity of communities coming together in order to achieve anything. As we continue into this season of change in our world, we should all welcome reminders of the power held by voices with a clear goal, and realize how much this message is integrated into our beliefs as Jewish people. Thank you all so much for listening to me today. Shabbat Shalom and stay safe and healthy!