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Dvar Torah - Zachary Ashberg

My parasha is parashat Pinchas which comes from the book of Bemidbar or the book of Numbers. I will discuss two topics from this week’s parasha.

To begin, I will start with Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. In the time of when the Jewish people were nearing the promised land, they were also at war with other tribes. A king of one of the tribes sent women to seduce Jewish men in order to change their religion. In doing so, this made G-d very angry. G-d sent out a plague that killed many people. When Pinchas saw a woman seducing a man, he decided to kill both of them with a spear. For the killing, G-d gave Pinchas and his future generations to come a blessing of Shalom, a blessing of peace. It is ironic that this act of violence is rewarded with a reward of peace.

Rabbis have argued over the meaning of this parasha for centuries. Many have questioned the moralty of killing someone on behalf of their faith or religion. There may or may not be a correct answer. In my opinion, its what you have in your heart that counts. It may be interpreted that Pinchas did not kill those two people out of revenge or malice, I would argue that he did it in order to stop the plague and enable peace. An example in modern day times would be the need to fight for one’s country to further future peace.

The other topic in this week’s parasha that I will explore relates to the 5 daughters of Tzelophechad. To summarize, Tzelophechad dies leaving no male heir to receive his portion of land. His 5 daughters plead their case to Moses that they should rightfully nherit their father’s land in the absence of any male heirs to claim it. Moses spoke to G-d and G-d ruled in favor of the daughters, allowing them to inherit the land. We can see this as one of the first successful Women’s Rights Movements. Although on the surface, this seems a feel-good story of Jewish feminism in action, I argue that it doesn’t go far enough. The women’s rights to inherit Tzelophechad’s land came with strings attached.

In order to claim their inheritance, the daughters are only allowed to marry within their own tribe, so that eventually the land that they inherit will stay in their tribe. In essence, the daughters can be seen as temporary holders of the land until they marry a man of their tribe and relinquish the land rights to their husbands.

Although women’s rights may have come a long way since the time of Tzelophechad, we all know that we are nowhere close to having truly equal rights between the genders. It is up to each of us, both men and women, to speak up and fight for change when we see injustice; just at Tzelophechad’s daughters did, but I also suggest that we not become complacent and accept only small victories as Tzelophechad’s daughters had to at the time. I suggest that we dig deeper and recognize that we cannot continue to allow our sisters, wives and mothers to be marginalized in today’s society. We mustn’t rest until they are given equal pay for equal work, have political, economic, personal and social equality and are allowed complete autonomy over their own bodies. We must all strive for true justice and equality.

My mitzvah project is not a single project but a continuation of my life-long passion for animals and commitment to promote animal welfare. My family and I all share a love for animals. We have all volunteered with Animal Rescues for as long as I can remember. When we lived in South Africa, we helped out in the townships. Now in Florida, we regularly volunteer at one of the largest Animal Rescues in the country- a no-kill shelter called the Big Dog Ranch.

I would like to thank my parents for fostering my love of animals and encouraging me to give of my time towards causes that are dear to my heart.

Thank You!

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