In this Torah portion, the final portion in the book of Numbers, we review the journeys made by the Israelites in the desert and learn about the plan for their arrival in the Holy Land, including the division of the land. Finally, we return to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, whose cousins are concerned they will take their heritage with them if the girls marry into another tribe.
A Summary of the Journey and a Plan for the Future
This lengthy passage details all the journeys the Children of Israel make in the desert, from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan. Although they spent 50 years in the desert, the Torah tells us they only made camp 38 times. The Israel Bible points out this sign of God’s incredible compassion: rather than forcing them to wander aimlessly during their punishment in the wilderness, he allows them to rest for extended periods of time between travels.
On the plains of Moab opposite the Canaanite city of Jericho, God tells Moses to instruct the people on their conduct in the Promised Land. They must drive out the current inhabitants and destroy any idolatrous artifacts left behind, otherwise they will become a stumbling block before the Children of Israel, causing them to be exiled. These verses, the Israel Bible explains, are also the source for the commandment to settle the Land of Israel.
The borders of the land of Israel are delineated, an important detail, the Israel Bible reminds us, because certain laws, particularly those regarding agricultural provisions for the poor, are applicable only in the Holy Land. This shows that caring for others is an inherent part of living in Israel.
The land is divided among the tribes by lot, with larger families being awarded a larger portion and smaller families less property. Only the Levites are not given a specific inheritance. Rather, the Children of Israel are commanded to set aside 48 cities for them to live in. The Israel Bible explains this was to allow them to set a spiritual example for the entire nation, by being spread out among them and serving as spiritual leaders.
Six of these cities are also set aside as cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River. The purpose of these cities is to offer sanctuary to someone who kills another person by accident and is sought by an avenger. If the avenger finds him outside the city of refuge and kills him, the avenger is not guilty of murder. If the manslayer reaches the safety of the city of refuge, he is safe, but he must remain there until the High Priest’s death. The Torah also states that one witness is not sufficient for a capital case, and warns against polluting the land with spilled blood.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the manslayer is sent to live among the Levites to escape the avenger?
Tribal Intermarriage and the Laws of Inheritance
The book of Numbers closes with a return to the daughters of Zelophehad, who, in their zeal and love for the Land of Israel, insisted on being granted an inheritance among the members of their tribe in place of their father, who died without sons. Now, their cousins approach Moses with a complaint: if the daughters marry men from other tribes, the land which they inherited will be annexed to their husbands’ tribes, and the tribe of Manasseh will become diminished in property!
Moses acknowledges the justice of their complaint, and comes up with a solution. A woman who inherits property should choose her spouse from among the members of her own tribe. The daughters of Zelophehad accept this ruling and marry the sons of their father’s brothers.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think this ruling is made now, and was not part of the original discussion when the daughters were granted their share?