This week’s Parsha, Pinchos, is named after a righteous man who killed a prince named Zimri and brought an end to the plague which had consumed the Israelites. Although some questioned Pinchos’ motives, G-d knew that they were pure, and rewarded him with the priesthood and the covenant of peace. But Parshas Pinchos also contains the story of five righteous women: the daughters of Tzefalchod.
Tzefalchod’s five daughters petitioned Moshe Rabbenu, and insisted that they should be granted their father’s portion of the land, for he died without sons. They did not back down, even when Moshe argued with them, for they believed that although mankind may believe that men are greater than women, G-d believes in equality and is kind to all. Indeed, G-d did agree with them and they were granted their inheritance.
The Midrasha Rabbah teaches us an important lesson based on Tzefalchod’s daughters. We read;
“In that generation, the women repaired what the men broke down.
You find that Aaron told them: “Break off the golden rings which are in the ears of your wives” (to make the golden calf—Exodus 32:2), but the women refused and held back their husbands, as is proved by the fact that it says (ibid. v. 3) “All the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears,” the women not participating with them in making the calf.
It was the same in the case of the spies, who uttered an evil report: “The men… when they returned, made all the congregation to murmur against Him” (Numbers 14:36), and against this congregation the decree [not to enter the Land] was issued, because they had said: “We are not able to go up” (ibid. v. 31). The women, however, were not with them in their counsel…
The men had been unwilling to enter the Land; the women petitioned to receive an inheritance in the Land.”
In every generation, not just that one, women hold an immense amount of power. Just as those women turned away from idolatry and who wanted to enter the Promised Land while their husbands were too afraid to, the women of this generation will bring Moshiach. Many argue that Chareidi women are treated as inferior; and, indeed, many Chareidi leaders call for women to be hidden behind mechitzas and confined to the kitchen. This is not the role of a Jewish woman.
We are not simply childbearers and cleaners, and the disturbing trend of “hiding” women- behind screens and in homes, photoshopped out of papers and told not to speak in public- is one which fights against the example set by the five daughters in this week’s Parsha, and, indeed, the matriarchs. Together, we will bring Moshiach; but not if we are sidelined and hidden away.
We are trailblazers. We are educators. We are businesswomen. We are carers. And, yes, we prop up the Jewish home and help Yiddishkeit to flourish under its roof. But that’s not all we can do. It took enormous courage and intelligence for Tzefalchod’s daughters to do what they did, but believe it or not, we can do the same in every generation. We have voices; let’s use them.