In the book of Numbers 27:1-11, we are introduced to five exceptional women, the Daughters of Zelophehad. When reading their story there are so many moments of deep reflection upon their courage, bravado, wisdom, strategic ability, diplomacy, solidarity and their ability to be agents of change.
The story comes just after Moses shared how the division of the land will be according to the tribes of Israel. Under Israel’s patriarchal system, the land and related responsibilities were distributed to each descending from the sons of Jacob. But what about the inheritance when there was no son? The daughters would be excluded.
It is exactly at this point of Exclusion that the five daughters of Zelophehad found their Voice and demonstrate extreme bravery, courage, wisdom and solidarity, by challenging the inheritance law. It was unheard of that women could go before male leadership at the time and challenge the inheritance law – but this was exactly what they did.
What do we take from them as women fighting tirelessly against gender-based violence and femicide?
- There is unlimited power in female solidarity. The fact that the women were five in number and could stand together gave them strength. Against male solidarity, they could demonstrate female solidarity. They took counsel with each other as to how to present their demand, and decided to be diplomatic. It is noteworthy that their understanding that God’s mercy extends equally to all his creatures was not the rationale they presented to the leaders.
- They had a plan, a strategy. Their argument, “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan”, was one that could find a sympathetic response in the ears of the male leaders. In using this tactic the women displayed an understanding of the constraints of the patriarchal society in which they lived. Rather than present an unqualified demand that daughters inherit equally with sons, they limited their demand to cases in which there are no sons. Their diplomacy enabled them to get the attention of Moses, for their demand was not a threat to the patriarchal order, but rather in accordance with the male concern for continuity.
- They understood that timing was everything. The wisdom of the daughters of Zelophehad consisted in knowing exactly when to present their argument. Their exegetical ability allowed them to challenge Moses on a legal point at this opportune moment. The silence of Moses indicated that they indeed brought a good question before him, one that only God could answer. In their wisdom they used their exegetical ability to say that they had no absolute right to their father’s landholding, thus making it clear to all that they were no threat to the established order.
- Their faith in God to bring about Change. Their courage, bravery and great wisdom led to the law being changed to include women. They received equal inheritance. They not only gained and inheritance for themselves, but for all women in this situation for generations to come.
Let our lives and voice be guided by God, so that generations to come will be told that We were Here, We Lived, We made a Change….
Rev. Lilana Kasper, ACT Alliance Africa, Gender Equality and Justice Community of Practice
The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this reflection are the contributions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.