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Daughters of Z


Consider this post a love story. Fifteen years ago this coming July 22 (remember that the Hebrew & secular calendar are often at odds), I sat under a large open tent in a field in upstate New York, next to the man who was rapidly becoming my beloved. It was Shabbat morning at the Jewish Renewal retreat center Elat Chayyim. Barely 5 days had passed since Bruce & I met and already things were ridiculously serious (not to mention amazingly fabulous). Then, as this week, the Torah portion was Pinchas — named, by the way, after the man who speared an interfaith couple caught in the act near (in?) the Tent of Meeting. As is the custom at Jewish Renewal services, the service leader described the verses that were to be read, and put forth an intention so that anyone who wanted to come up for an aliyah could do so.

Following 37 (give or take) verses enumerating the sons of sons of sons wandering in the desert (for the purpose of giving out agricultural holdings in the new land)(and with nary a woman in sight), we get to the daughters of Zeloph’had. Five of them: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father is dead, their mother unnamed, and they are fearful that their fathers’ portion will be lost because there are no sons. They stand before Moses, the priests & chieftains, and the whole (presumably male) assembly and plead their case: Give us a holding! Are these women cool or what?

Moses, a little perplexed as to what he should do, brings their case before God and a remarkable thing happens. God says:

The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just.

Their plea is just. Standing in front of the unrolled scroll, I start to cry. For one thing, this man I barely know has encouraged me to go up for the aliyah at the moment that the verses are announced, before the explanation is made & the invitation extended to do so. He not only knows what’s coming in the text, but he already knows that these words will mean something to me. Second, I am amazed by the story of the daughters of Z.  Who knew this was in the Torah? I dig these women, and am delighted that the redactors saw fit to include their small rebellion. It is at this moment that I allow the possibility that Torah can engage and challenge me – and not make me 100% crazy. I can still be a feminist and love the words. The Torah is not my enemy. Something in me shifts, a tension that I had held for over 2 decades.

And third, as I imagine in my poem, We Who Desire, this is a God I could come to like, perhaps even to believe in.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Rubin permalink
    06/29/2010 1:07 pm

    You make me cry! Thanks for sharing this personal encounter with Torah. I’m in a very new stage of re-engagement (yes, even rabbis become disengaged). Thank you!!!

  2. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    06/29/2010 1:32 pm

    And, dear Sue, this was my bat mitzvah portion 5 years ago and what you describe about it and your relation to torah are like words out of my own mouth! That Bruce “got it” is a gift, but why am I not surprised?. Mira helped me to see that as we talk about this WE are torah, although some conservative Jews tell me this is not so. It is Mira’s interpretation that makes me love and want to learn from the Jewish tradition.

    • Sarah Rubin permalink
      06/29/2010 3:21 pm

      I, too, am grateful to my rabbi, Mira, for teaching me much. My own understanding, if I may, about Torah is that it is constantly emanating forth from Sinai — that we were all at Sinai and are still receiving, and attempting to live, Torah in our lives. May we live it well!

      • sue swartz permalink*
        06/29/2010 5:41 pm

        Living Torah in our own lives: precisely. I consider myself a student and a teacher, a wrestler and a cynic, often uplifted by Torah and often totally made wretched by it. It’s a dance. I am grateful that I was open to my first adult Torah teachers – Rabbis Arthur Waskow, Phyllis Berman, Zalman Schachter Shalomi, and David Wolfe-Blank (may he rest in peace), as well as poets Alicia Ostrikers and Yehuda Amichai. And now, of course, all my readers!

  3. Bruce Solomon permalink
    06/29/2010 7:14 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of that special moment sweetheart. Mwhah!

  4. Dan Price permalink
    06/30/2010 2:47 pm

    I met my Joy in a somewhat more prosaic manner. Your defining moment involved the Torah, mine involved a pan of brownies. But then I’m male; the only thing that trumps the delectable aroma of freshly baked brownies, is the even more delectable woman who baked them.

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