“Every daughter from the tribes of the children of Israel who inherits property, shall marry a member of her father’s tribe” Numbers 36:8


Female educators and those who want to identify the rights of women in the Torah will no doubt champion the example of the Zelophehad’s daughters petitioning Moses and the elders for their inheritance. 

Zelophehad dies in the wilderness and is survived by his five children, all daughters who are all individually named. In Numbers 27, the women — in a singularly remarkable act of bravery — petition Moses for the perceived rightful inheritance of their father. 

After consulting with the Almighty, Moses informs the Children of Israel that land will pass to daughters if there are no sons. Why is it, then, at the conclusion of the Book of Bemidbar in chapter 36, that we are reintroduced to the daughters? Surely this episode was concluded nine chapters previously.

Now that sole surviving female children can inherit, what happens to the inherited land if the women marry men of other tribes? Would the land then transfer out of the collective holding of the tribe of Manasseh — in Zelophehad’s case — and into the hands of the respective husbands’ tribes? God again clarifies: women may inherit but if they do, they may only marry within their own tribe. 

Have we just diluted the women’s rights or are there bigger issues at play? According to Rabbi Sacks, the book of Bemidbar is initially about individuals. We read the stories of Joshua, Caleb, Dathan, Abiram, Balaam and Balak, among others. And yet, despite these, we are always brought back to the notion of the tribe. The tribe gives gifts to the tabernacle, the tribe is instructed regarding encampment and the tribe is allocated a portion of land in Israel. 

The daughters start as named individuals in two separate places; each with her own hopes and dreams of living on the land, but by the end, they are only referred to collectively as “the daughters of Zelophehad”. Their individuality becomes secondary as we switch to the centrality of the tribe. As we prepare for our final weeks in the desert, it is as a tribe; where all of our assets, whether land or people,  need to be consolidated for the betterment of the whole.


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