Parshat Pinchas

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

And the Lord said to Moses, “The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. 

"Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter."

—Numbers 27:6-8

One of the most cringe-worthy moments in the life of a company or organization is when a person says, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Perhaps a new employee or board member suggested a strategy on improving workflow or productivity. Or wanted to try a new approach to an ongoing issue. Or questioned the structure of leadership – only to be met with “This is how we’ve always done it.” Ideas and potential for growth are stopped before they even had a chance to start. Too often, that phrase is directed at people in the workspace who are already facing challenges – women and people of color. What would it look like if instead of falling back on old patterns and methods, our companies and organizations took a moment to consider change?

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, tells about a family that tried to change the patriarchal system of inheritance – and succeeded. Zelophehad, one of the Israelites named in this portion while discussing inheritance, had five daughters and no sons. After his death, his daughters approached Moses and questioned the fate of their father’s land. The men around them were inheriting land and these five women were about to be left with nothing. Why couldn’t they inherit the land? Moses brought the issue to God and God decreed that the inheritance could go to daughters. This was a major innovation for the Israelites, providing access to previously disenfranchised members of their community and seeing their involvement as progress rather than a threat.

Our communities are in a time of great change and transition.  We are faced with a new reality that includes gathering via video conferencing technology, long periods of social isolation, and drastically different ways of interacting in public. We are also in a time of introspection, examining our understanding of race, justice, and our attitudes towards others. If we say, “This is how we’ve always done it,” when we discuss topics like Shabbat or High Holiday services at our synagogues, the stakes are far greater than before. We must challenge our long-held ways of thinking and our understanding of what is right and just in our community – just as Moses did when he brought the issue of inheritance to God.  God did not respond “This is how we’ve always done it,” but instead listened and made a change. Can we, as a community, do the same?