Pinchas: A Daughter of Tselophechad Stands Up for Her Rights

The daughters of Tselophechad, of the Tribe of Menashe…came forward to Moses for judgment, regarding property they had inherited from their father. Their names were Machla, Noa, Chogla, Milka, and Tirza. …They said, “Our father died in the wilderness. …He has left no sons. Let us inherit his property!” And Moses brought their case before the LORD.

–Numbers 27:1-5

I am Milka, next-to-the-youngest of our father Tselophechad. In the Torah Rabbi Moses wrote—or dictated by God’s command—that we, though being mere women, should inherit our father Tselophechad’s property. It was then, and still is, a milestone in Jewish legislation that a woman should inherit property. However, in the end, all my sisters except me married our cousins, also Menashites. This kept the property in our little tribe, that of Menashe, son of Joseph, who rescued Pharaoh and the Kingdom of Egypt from famine. It is hard to remember Joseph fondly, because, by bringing our ancestors down to Egypt, he also condemned them to the fate of slavery: a four-hundred-year sentence.

But that is all behind us, now; the Holy Land awaits our conquest, and I am eager to participate. Nonetheless, I refuse to submit to the judgment of Moses and his God; I wish to hold on to my paltry share of Papa’s property, alone.

Before he died, Papa took each of us alone into his bed-chamber. When it was my turn, he told me: “You, Milka, despite being neither firstborn nor last-born, have always been my favorite,” he said, his voice made weak by the illness that killed him—and where was God then, to rescue a man about whom no one could any ill?

“I wish for you to retain this small bit of property that I leave you.” And he presented me with a silver ring, with a red stone in it. Is it a ruby or garnet? It does not matter:  it was a gift from my Papa, who chose me to be his favorite. I am content.

So, when we went before the great Moses—how thin he was, and how frail! It is hard to believe that the Word of Almighty God could reside in such a skinny body—bossy Machla, my eldest sister, spoke for all of us, as she always does. I kept my peace. I knew I was the favorite; Papa had told me so.

The days and moons have passed; my sisters have married our cousins, and I wish them well in their choices. I cannot say that any of my new brothers-in-law impress me; they prefer not to work, instead spending their days guzzling beer in the tavern, and bothering Uncle Emir for pocket money.

For myself, I have chosen to live my life with my lovely girl companion, Ahava bat Emet, who has been my friend for all of our lives together, since we met years ago in the little children’s Torah class. I love when she looks at me—her eyes are golden-brown, like the soil of Canaan which we will enter shortly, like the sun when it sets over the wildnerness. We take long walks, and talk for hours. I much prefer her company and her love over that of any man—and no one need know. Why, what business is it of theirs?

When Moses dies and Joshua takes over, our citizen-troops will win us a holding in the New Land, Ahava and I will build a small house, on the outskirts of Menashe’s tribal portion. We will spin and dye wool together to sell in the marketplace. When the day grows cool, I will take my beloved’s hand, and we will walk through the country which God has gifted to us.

When we grow old and our time comes to depart this life, we will be buried, side by side. Our love will never die.

Bloom forever, O Israel, from the dust of my bosom!

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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