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Standing Up Against Injustice

07/11/2017 03:26:19 PM


July 11, 2017
by Craig Etlin, President

When Rabbi Graf asked me to write a drash this summer, I thought this would be a great opportunity to examine the Torah portion from my Bar Mitzvah. It was Pinchas, this week's portion. How nice to have the opportunity to consider Pinchas 44 years after my Bar Mitzvah!

God commands Moses and Eleazar, the high priest, to conduct a census of the 12 tribes and the clans within each tribe. The purpose of the census is to determine how to divide the land of Canaan first among the tribes, and then among the clans. God instructs that the larger groups will get more land and the smaller groups less, with the locations to be decided by lot. Of course, according to the laws of Israel at the time, only men would receive land allotments.  

In response, the five daughters of Zelophehad come forward before Moses, Eleazar and the entire community to plead their case. Their father had died in the wilderness and left no sons, but they ask for an allotment of land like every other clan so that their father's name (his clan) would not be lost. Moses brings their case before God and God responds that the request is just and instructs Moses to give them their father's portion among their tribe. We are then told that this shall be the law of the Israelites.      

We see a system which purports to be just, as the land is apportioned relative to the size of each tribe. Yet this system does not treat women as equals. However, when the daughters of Zelophehad point out that they will not be treated fairly, God is receptive to their plea and grants them what would have been their father's share of land. While this was not full equality for women, we can learn from the daughters of Zelophehad that standing up against injustice is nonetheless worth the effort.

While the daughters of Zelophehad achieved a small victory and changed Jewish law in a way that helped a narrow class of women, unfortunately, women are still not treated as equals at all times. We have recently seen a troubling development in the State of Israel with the government capitulating to the ultra-orthodox factions and reneging on the agreement to provide a gender-egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. In our own country and the local community, we see vast pay inequities between men and women, an assault on women's reproductive rights by the administration in Washington, harassment and under-representation of women in local technology firms, and violence against women/rape culture an accepted norm.

Like the daughters of Zelophehad, we must plead the case for equality and justice in the treatment of women. We may not win every battle, but we must continue to fight for justice even when we suffer setbacks. As we are taught in Pirke Avot: "You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to abandon it." The cause of justice is advanced every time we stand up against injustice, even if we do not achieve victory in every instance.  

As a community, we at Sherith Israel work together through our Social Action Committee to fight injustices of many kinds. If you are eager to fight injustice as well, come join us.

Sat, April 21 2018 6 Iyar 5778