Standing up for what is right often means “speaking truth to power.” While this phrase may be a modern-day one, the idea of asking a community’s leadership to address an injustice is found in this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas.
As God and Moses prepare to apportion the land of Canaan among the Israelite tribes, five women, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah come forward before Moses, Eleazer the priest, the chieftains and the whole assembly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and explain that their father, Zelophehad, died without leaving any sons. Therefore, they argue, they should be allowed to inherit the land holding that should have been their father’s (Num. 27:1-4). Moses brings the case before God, and God determines that the women’s case is just. God instructs the Israelites that “if a man dies without having a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter” (Num. 27:8). In this case, “speaking truth to power” results in a new and fairer law coming into existence.
For us today, the story models how ordinary citizens can effect change in law and in civil society. The next time we feel dissatisfied with the direction being taken by our elected representatives, may we remember the lesson of Zelophehad’s daughters and speak out for what we believe is right.
Rabbi Sandra Bellush