Pinchas: Learning Leadership from the Women

“Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic” – Stephen Covey

Parshat Pinchas profiles various types of leadership. Among them, the daughters of Zelophehad demonstrate how to lead positive change. They are a much needed model for today. 

After the Torah describes how the land of Israel will be divided, the five daughters of Zelophehad approach Moshe and request an inheritance in Israel, as they have no brothers to inherit land. The commentaries characterize them as having great “chibah” (love) for Israel. The Talmud goes even further, describing them as “darshaniyot” (interpreters), tzidkaniyot (righteous) and “chachmaniyot” (wise). How do we see these qualities in their behavior?

The daughters emphasize that their father “died by sin in the midbar,” but not as a part of Korah’s congregation. Rashi teaches that they emphasized that while their father sinned, he did not lead others to sin like Korah. Also, Korah spread unfounded criticism and refused to engage in dialogue with Moshe. 

The midrash also contrasts the daughters of Zelophehad with the story of the spies. The spies slandered the Land of Israel and spread negativity among the nation. After their words, the people said they wanted to return to Egypt, leading to catastrophe for that generation. The midrash views the daughters’ words to Moshe as the opposite of the language and behavior that previously led to disasters in Bamidbar. They are proactive. They embrace dialogue and use positive language by saying: “We want to be part of this too!” 

Hashem’s response is “The daughters speak justly.” The midrash sees this as deep affirmation. The Talmud pays them the ultimate compliment: it teaches that the laws of inheritance for daughters are attributed to, and written by, the daughters of Zelophehad. After the earlier stories of people who found ways to criticize and sow discord, these five women model proactivity, dialogue, positivity, and love of the Land of Israel. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson


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