Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Parsha Pinchas – The Bnos Tzelafchad

Bamidbar, 27:1,3: “And the daughters of Tzlafchad son of Gilad son of Machir son of Menashe of the family of Menashe the son of Yosef, approached…Why should the name of our father be diminished (lamah yigara) from among his family because he had no son?

Rashi, 27:1, Dh: Lemishpechos Menashe ben Yosef: “Why does it say this [of the family of Menashe son of Yosef] – it already said ‘the son of Menashe’?  Rather it is to say to you, Yosef loved the land, as it says, ‘and you will bring up my bones…’ and his daughters loved the land, as it says, ‘give us a holding’, and it teaches you that they were all righteous…”

In the midst of the Parsha, we find the brief account of the Bnos Tzlafchad.  He passed away with no sons and five daughters.  At that point, the Torah had mandated that only sons could inherit the land of their fathers.  Accordingly, as things stood, when the Jewish people would enter Eretz Yisrael, their family would not receive a share in the land.  Consequently, they came to Moshe Rabbeinu with a request.  They asked that they receive the portion of their father’s land.  On a superficial reading, this request does not seem out of the ordinary but in reality, they were basically asking HaShem to change the laws of the Torah.  This is incredibly audacious and one could even ascribe to it a level of chutzpah – it almost implies that HaShem forgot to address this point when He gave the Torah laws.  What is equally astonishing is that HaShem immediately agreed to their appeal and instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to amend the Torah laws to allow for daughters to inherit land if there are no sons.

This was not the first time that people came to Moshe with an audacious request to add to the Torah.  In Parshas Behaalosecha, a group of people were unable to offer the Korban Pesach on Pesach and they also came to Moshe with a request: “…We are contaminated through a human corpse why should we be diminished (lamah nigara) by not offering HaShem’s offering on his appointed time among the Children of Israel.”[1] HaShem agreed to their argument and made the new Festival of Pesach Sheini to give those people a second opportunity to do a Mitzva that they missed through no fault of their own.

It is striking that in both accounts, the claimants used the same root word – garah – diminish – in their requests.  They were both arguing that they were unfairly missing out on something through no fault of their own.  However, there would seem to be a big difference between the two episodes.  In Behaalosecha the men were asking to be able to fulfil a Mitzva, whereas in Pinchas, the Bnos Tzlafchad were asking for land.  Yet, Rashi points out that the intentions of the Bnos Tzlafchad were also driven by a love of Mitzvos and not by a base desire for property.  Rashi explains that they loved Eretz Yisrael and wanted a Portion in the land.   Perhaps the identical word usage alludes to the fact that the Bnos Tzlafchad were motivated by spiritual factors just like the impure men.   In both cases, HaShem swiftly and happily acceded to their bold requests and did no less than add Mitzvos to the Torah.[2]

What was the key to the outstanding success of these two requests?  Of course, one can never be sure why HaShem answers some Tefillos in the positive, and others in the negative, but these two accounts give us a clue to effective prayers.  In both cases, the request was not driven by selfish motives, rather it was driven by a burning desire to do Ratson HaShem – to offer a Korban or to have a portion in the Holy Eretz Yisrael.  HaShem wants us to fulfil His ratson and come closer to Him, so when we genuinely ask to do so and asks HaShem, ‘let me do Your will’ then HaShem is far more likely to answer in the positive than if one were to ask HaShem, ‘do my will’.

A prime example of praying in this fashion is Chana.  The verse says that she came to pray at the Mishkan in Shiloh to be blessed with a child: “And she was bitter of soul, and she prayed on (al) HaShem, and she greatly cried[3].” The Gemara[4] notes the unusual use of the phrase ‘al HaShem’ instead of the expected ‘el HaShem’.  The Gemara explains that we learn from here that she ‘hiticha devarim Klapei Maalah’.  The simple understanding of this phrase is in a somewhat negative sense, that she spoke overly strongly to HaShem, however, the Nefesh HaChaim actually explains this as a praise of Chana. 

He explains that Chana prayed ‘al HaShem’, means that she prayed for the sake of HaShem.  This is the meaning of the Gemara that she played ‘klapei Maalah’ – for the sake of the One above, meaning that she did not pray to HaShem to save her because of her personal suffering, but for the sake of HaShem’s pain at her own travails.

The Dudaim Besadeh[5] likewise explains that Chana’s whole kavannah was leshem Shamayim, and that she did not ask for children to have nachas ruach in this world or the next world, rather in order to give birth to children to serve HaShem.  This is proven by her promise that if she would have a son, she would “give him to HaShem all the days of his life[6],” meaning that she would devote his life to Avodas HaShem.  Indeed, she kept this promise, and sent him to serve Eli the Kohen Gadol in Shiloh from a very young age.  Thus, she gave up the normal ‘nachas’ that a parent has in bringing up their child, because her whole kavannah was for the sake of HaShem.  Her reward was a son who was one of the greatest Ovdei HaShem, even on a level of Moshe and Aharon.

We have seen three examples of the pure prayers of great people and how they were positively answered.  Of course, reaching this level of purity in intention is difficult, but a person should not feel down if his natural intentions are not totally pure.  Rav Chaim of Volozhin in his commentary on Pirkei Avos writes that if one’s motivations are loh lishma, he should at least have the intention to get to lishma.  This means that he should want to want to do Mitzvos for the right reasons, even if he is not fully there on an emotional level.  In this vein, Rav Akiva Tatz suggests that when one prays, he should ask HaShem to want to want for the right reasons.  So, for example, if one wants parnassah for various reasons, he should ask HaShem to help him want parnassah so that it will help him in his avodas HaShem.  May we all merit to pray in the right way.

[1] Bamdibar, 8:5.

[2] Based on the article, “Lessons from the Daughters of Tzlophchad” by Rabbi Daniel Loewenstein, alaphbeta.org.

[3] Shmuel Aleph, 1:10.

[4] Brachos, 31b.

[5] Quoted in Mishbetsos Zahav, Shmuel Aleph, p.28.

[6] Shmuel Aleph, 1:11.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Chukat – Tefillah Is Our Personal ‘Iron Dome’

Last month, Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Eretz Yisrael attempting to kill civilians—men, women and children. Most of the rockets targeting populated areas were shot down by the Iron Dome defense system. Still, Iron Dome was at times overwhelmed by huge simultaneous barrages of rockets. With Hashem’s help, there were only a small number of deaths compared to the huge number of rockets fired.

When klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim, until shortly before they entered Eretz Yisrael, they had a foolproof “Iron Dome.” The Clouds of Glory covering the Jewish nation protected them from any harm. They also served as a climate control system to keep the temperature surrounding Bnei Yisrael comfortable, even in the burning heat of the desert days and the bitter cold of the desert nights.

In the last year of their desert sojourn, however, Aharon HaKohen passed away and the Clouds of Glory surrounding klal Yisrael dissipated. It was in the merit of Aharon HaKohen that we had the clouds, and our enemies quickly noticed the change and launched a fierce attack. Indeed, the Gemara notes they were attacked specifically then because they saw that the Clouds of Glory had vanished. This is indicated in the pasuk that mentions Aharon HaKohen passing: “Vayiru kol ha’eidah ki gavah Aharon”—all the nations saw that Aharon had died. The Gemara says the word “vayiru” can be read as “viyara’u”—the nation was now exposed and visible to all, due to the dissipation of the Clouds of Glory.

The Midrash notes that although the pasuk says that the Canaanite king of Arad saw that the Jews traveled by “the way of the spies and he attacked Israel,” it was really the king of Amalek who disguised his people as Canaanites when they attacked. Amalek had attacked Bnei Yisrael once before after they passed through the Splitting of the Sea. Then, we were protected by the Clouds of Glory—a kind of “force field Iron Dome,” and Amalek was only able to reach the stragglers, the sinners who were banished from the protection of the clouds. Now, with the clouds removed, Amalek saw it was a fortuitous time to attack klal Yisrael.

Amalek attacked derech ha’asarim, by the way of the spies. Rashi says this is the southern side, the direction the meraglim (spies) used to enter Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael might still have had the merits needed for Divine protection despite the clouds being gone, but Chazal tell us that Amalek had the ability to attack the Jewish nation because of the sin of the meraglim. That sin caused us to be vulnerable to attack. This teaches a powerful lesson: when we perform mitzvos we build fortresses that protect us. In contrast, our aveiros (sins) create minefields that can harm us.

Why did Amalek dress his soldiers like Canaanim? The Midrash explains that Amalek knew the Bnei Yisrael would daven to Hashem to be saved. Amalek learned his lesson about the power of tefillah (prayer) from his first battle against Bnei Yisrael, where Moshe stood on top of a mountain flanked by Aharon and Chur, with his hands raised to heaven, spurring the Bnei Yisrael to daven to the Almighty and thereby defeat Amalek. Now Amalek was trying to sabotage the prayer of the Jewish nation. They thought their disguise would lead to a prayer for protection against someone else so they could be victorious. They knew Hashem fulfilled specific requests.

However, the Jews heard the opposing soldiers speaking the language of Amalek. It became unclear who they really were, so the people davened to be saved from their attackers in general, without specifying who that might be.

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk adds a twist to this Gemara. Bnei Yisrael already had a promise from Hashem that they would defeat the Canaanites so they wouldn’t need to daven to prevent an attack from them. Therefore, Amalek played a trick by dressing up like the locals so Bnei Yisrael wouldn’t bother davening. True to form, Amalek was clever, but their spoken words heard by Bnei Yisrael were their undoing.

In our own lives, we also have our Iron Dome—tefillah. Tefillah is a powerful force that is available to us at all times. This “system” is always active, always at the ready. We just need to lift our eyes toward heaven and ask for the specific help we need.