To My Daughters- A Letter to Mahlah, Noa, Choglah, Milcah and Tirzah,
Parshat Pinchas is named for the zealot Pinchas, however the story of the daughters of Tzelophechad is a highlight of this parsha, if not in the entire Torah. This story is truly remarkable in a number of ways. First of all, each of the daughters of Tzelophechad are named in the story; which is something that unusual for the women in Torah. The daughters, who have no brothers and no father (nothing is mentioned about their mother) petitioned Moses and the elders of Israel to allow them to inherit land in their father's name when they enter the land. The text says that the daughters "stood" before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Moses brought the case before God and God immediately answered that the Daughters of Tzelophechad were correct and (amazingly!) an amendment was made to the laws of inheritance.
Pinchas is named is named for his zealous, if controversial deed. The father of the sisters is named and his lineage is described. Absent from the text is anything about the mother of the five daughters. We do not know if their mother is alive or dead, or any other fact about her. She remains nameless and identity-less.
In this short midrash, I have composed a letter from this nameless mother to her daughters. I have taken the liberty to speak for her, because I wanted her to be a part of this story. In this letter, I have imagined how her daughters learned and made their case before the leaders of the community.
How do our children learn? They learn from parents, from teachers and the society surrounding them. In this, the daughters, have learned to "stand"
from their mother. Their strength and their ability to articulate their issue I have attributed to their nameless mother.
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I write this blog post on the birthday of my own daughter, who has taught me much over the years. Indeed, she stands tall, like the daughters in this story. Happy birthday.
To Each of My Daughters,
My name is not mentioned in the Torah text. Nowhere will you find me, but so importantly, each of you is named in the Book of all Books. Through you and your accomplishments, I am also present in this story. I and your grandmothers and great grandmothers. We are watching you.
About your names, which we chose so carefully.
Mahlah, our first born, your name is like movement itself, the movement of the wind, the movement of time passing onward.
Noa, Your name is reminiscent of the tiny movements of the leaves in the breeze.
Choglah, your name means to circle, as the moon orbits the earth and the bee circles the flower.
Milcah, my fourth born, your name means to walk, as one walks toward friends, as one walks with purpose.
Tirzah, my youngest, your name, means to run, as the people run for water, as the lioness runs, silent and purposeful.
All of you were named for movement. When we chose those names, we never knew how you would grow into their meanings. It is important for parents to choose names that have meaning over time.
My daughters, you have learned well.
You gained wisdom from your father. You gained confidence from observing life around you and from me you have learned the power of standing tall; always moving forward.
From each other you have garnered strength and intensity. Together you are a like a powerful wind that prances and moves through the desert.
Daughters, you have made me proud.
You were not invisible.
You were not afraid.
You identified a need, worked together, clasped each other’s hands and moved forward, and without wasting one word, you made your case.
who moved worlds, who moved the lawmakers, who moved the Holy One, the Creator,
I am not physically with you, my daughters, but your victory is mine. Yours is a victory of future daughters and grand daughters and to women, who understand that they should not be afraid to stand tall, to hold their ground.
To make their case clearly and not settle for less.
Always stand tall, my daughters.
Always move forward.
I am not named in the Book of Books, but if I were, my chosen name would be The Mother of the Daughters Who Stood Strong.
You made your case.
The daughters of Zelophehad, of Manassite family—son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph—came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against יהוה, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” Moses brought their case before יהוה. And יהוה said to Moses, “The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just:
Numbers 27:1-7 (translation from Sefaria)