This week we read the Torah portion of Pinchas. We recall that in last week’s portion, entitled “Balak,” Bilaam was hired by the King of Moav to curse the Jewish people. Bilaam was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the portion he comes up with an alternative plan. He advises Balak to tell all the Moabites to prostitute their own daughters and send them into the Israelite camp to entice them to sin. His plan works as even leaders in the Israelite camp are seduced and succumb to the temptation. A plague comes forth, as a result, causing thousands to die. Finally, in a zealous act, Pinchas stands up against the unbecoming promiscuity and brings an end to the plague.
Following the above, a census is conducted. After all, the Jewish people are now on the outskirts of the Land of Israel ready to enter and receive their inheritance. While one’s status as a Jew according to Jewish law is decided by matrilineal inheritance, the tribal land is allotted according to patrilineal inheritance. The daughters of Tzelophchad approach Moses with a complaint in this regard. “Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against the Lord in Korach’s assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers” (Numbers 27:3-4).
Moses responds to the query by saying that he will consult with G-d and get back to them. Was Moses really unaware of the law? In truth, there was something else that rendered Moses unable to adjudicate this case. When Tzelophchad’s daughters brought up the question they mentioned that their father had not been on Korach’s side in the rebellion against Moses. Clearly, he had sided with Moses in this major conflict. The moment Moses was told this, he no longer felt he could be an objective judge and therefore he had to defer to another authority.
This is truly incredible as it once again highlights why Moses was such a great leader. Even if it was the case that he wasn’t swayed by the knowledge that their family was loyal to him, he had a commitment to justice and acting with integrity. He had to step aside on the off chance that he was impartial. In the end, G-d grants them a tribal allotment.
We must learn from this episode and Moses’ extraordinary conduct. So often we cannot help but judge others around us. However, none of us truly know what is going on behind the scenes in others’ lives. Moreover, it may very well be the case that if we are honest with ourselves we are far from impartial judges as we carry our own insecurities and preconceived notions into the equation. Only G-d is truly objective and can pass judgment on others. Like Moses, we must be humble enough to admit this and avoid passing judgment on others. May we merit learning this lesson and internalize it in our hearts?
– Rabbi Liad Braude