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The Daughters of Tzelofchad
One of the topics in this week’s parsha discusses the story of Bnos Tzelafchad (the daughters of Tzelafchad; Parshas Pinchas, 27:1-11) who were from the Tribe of Menashe. Tzelafchad died in the wilderness but he did not leave over any sons. Rather, Tzelafchad had daughters.
Now, every tribe received a portion of land in Eretz Yisrael and, according to the Torah, inheritance of land is passed down by way of sons. This is because daughters will most probably get married at which time their portion of land in Eretz Yisrael will be together with their husband’s portion.
The daughters of Tzelafchad claimed to Moshe that they should inherit their father’s portion of land in Eretz Yisrael because there were no sons to inherit his portion.
Moshe brought their claim before God and Hashem responded that Bnos Tzelafchad spoke properly and they would indeed inherit their father’s portion of land in Eretz Yisrael. This story stops here, but only temporarily. This is because this story picks up again in Parshas Masei.
In Parshas Masei (36:6-7), Moshe instructs the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from their own tribe (Menashe) because otherwise the portion of land which they just inherited from their father would belong to whatever tribe their husbands belonged to. The daughters of Tzelafchad heeded Moshe’s advise and married their cousins who were the sons of the brothers of their father, Tzelafchad.
At this point, we are going to analyze one aspect of this story. The pasuk says, “Vayakreiv Moshe Es Mishpatan Lifnei Hashem” (and Moshe brought their claim before Hashem; Parshas Pinchas, 27:5). Rashi (ibid) cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin (chap. 1, “Dinei Mammanos Bishlosha”, pg. 8a) that says that the law concerning Bnos Tzelafchad was concealed from Moshe as a way of punishing Moshe for speaking arrogantly when he [Moshe] said to the Jewish people, “The matter that is too difficult for you, bring to me” (Parshas Devarim, 1:17).
These words of Moshe sounded like he was saying that he knew everything and that he could field any question that came by him. In order to put Moshe in his place, the law concerning Bnos Tzelafchad was taken away from him to show him that he did not know everything (see Rashi, Parshas Devarim, 1:17 citing Sifri #17).
However, this begs us to ask, “How could Moshe have become arrogant if the Torah testifies that Moshe was the humblest person on the face of the Earth (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:3)?”
The Kedushas Levi (Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740 Poland-1810 Ukraine) in Likkutim of Pirkei Avos answers this question by saying that Moshe observed how Hashem chose to give the Torah. Moshe saw that Hashem chose to give the Torah specifically on Har Sinai because it was the lowest and worst of the mountains (Sota, chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 5a, Rav Huna or Rav Chisda).
Moshe surmised from this that Hashem wants to give the Torah through the lowest and the worst. Moshe deduced from this that not only did the location of giving the Torah have to be the lowest and worst, but so would the person chosen to give the Torah have to be the lowest and the worst.
Therefore, Moshe jumped at the opportunity to bring the Torah to the Jewish people because he reasoned that he was the lowest and worst of the Jews. This is why Moshe did not even attempt to refuse Hashem when He told Moshe to go on top of the mountain, into the angelic domain, and bring the Torah to the Jews. Moshe acquiesced immediately because his humility told him that he was the best candidate for the job.
This was in stark contrast to the way Moshe responded to Hashem at the Burning Bush when God instructed Moshe to be the redeemer of the Jewish people. At that time, Moshe refused Hashem’s offer, at first, claiming that he was not worthy (Parshas Shemos, 3:1).
The reason why Moshe tried to wiggle out of being the agent to liberate the Jews from slavery was because Hashem had offered Moshe to be the leader, which was a position of prominence. This position of distinction went against every grain and fiber of Moshe’s personality which was that of humility. As such, Moshe kept refusing Hashem until he had no choice other than to obey Hashem’s command.
But again, when it came to Matan Torah, since Hashem was apparently looking for the lowest and worst person to give the Torah, Moshe thought that he would be the best applicant for the job because he was, in his own eyes, the lowest and worst of the Jews.
The Berditchever Rebbe explains that this is why Moshe’s words (the matter that is too difficult for you, bring to me; Parshas Devarim, 1:17) was not coming from a place of arrogance. Rather, Moshe was simply saying that since Hashem’s will was that the Torah be given via the lowest person, Moshe must be the one elected to teach the people the most difficult of questions.
This is because Matan Torah was not just a one-time event. Rather, the giving of Torah is a constant process. Every time Moshe teaches the people something it is part of Matan Torah, and Matan Torah must be done through the lowest.
Therefore, Moshe said that the people should bring him all of their difficulties. This was not meant to be boastful as in, “I know everything.” Rather, it was merely a self-testimony that he was the lowest of Jews, and as such, he would have to continue giving the Torah to them.
The only reason why Moshe was punished by having the law concerning Bnos Tzelafchad taken away from him [even though he did not speak arrogantly] is because Moshe did not explain what he meant when he said those words. Had Moshe said, “Bring me all of your difficult questions because, as the lowest Jew in town, God has chosen me to be the Law Giver,” everything would have been fine.
However, since Moshe did not explain himself when he said, “Bring me all of your most difficult questions,” the average person could have been suspicious that Moshe was speaking out of arrogance. Moshe accidentally misled some of the people into thinking that he was conceited.
Since Avtalyon said, “Scholars, be cautious with your words” (Pirkei Avos, 1:11), and Moshe was not careful with his words, he was punished by having the law concerning the daughters of Tzelafchad removed from him. (Shvilei Pinchas).
At this point we are going to delve a little bit deeper into understanding Moshe’s claim of having the answers to all questions. To do so, we are going to add another dimension of meaning behind Moshe’s forgetting the law concerning Bnos Tzelafchad. To accomplish this, we are going to analyze a most disturbing pasuk and Midrash.
In Sefer Yeshaya (51:4) it says, “For a Torah will come forth from Me.” Since Yeshaya lived after the event of Matan Torah, it sounds like Yeshaya was saying, in the Name of God, that there is going to be another Torah that will be given to the Jewish people. This sounds like heresy. The following Midrash makes things much worse.
In Vayikra Rabba (Parshas Shmini, 13:3), Rebbi Avin bar Kahana said that the explanation of this verse in Yeshaya means that, “A Torah Chadasha [new Torah] will come forth from Me.” This sounds just like what missionaries claim. Missionaries claim that Yeshaya means to say that there is going to be a New Testament. By the way, this idea stems from the Book of Isaiah and missionaries love to quote from Isaiah.
What is the Jewish response to the missionaries? How do we understand this pasuk and Midrash? We must be equipped with answers and deliver them quickly and succinctly with confidence (Pirkei Avos, chap. 2, “Rebbi Omer”, Mishna 19, Rebbi Elazar).
The Arizal ((Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Yerushalayim-1572 Tzfas) in Pri Eitz Chaim (Sha’ar Haberachos, chap. 2) addresses this difficulty by explaining that when the pasuk and Midrash say that there is a “Torah Chadasha” coming, it does not refer to a New Testament. It does not refer to the Book of Acts, Paul, and the Gospels, etc. Rather, it refers to “Chiddushei Torah” (Torah ideas which already exist within our Torah Hakedosha but which have not yet been discovered).
These Chiddushei Torah will be brought to us one day by Hashem. Although we have already uncovered vast amounts of Torah knowledge, there are still new Chiddushei Torah that we have not yet accessed. The Torah consists of a constant flow of new Torah gems, some of which we have not yet been able to tap in to.
A support to this concept is found in Meseches Rosh Hashsana (chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 21b, Rav or Shmuel) which says that Hashem created fifty gates of Torah understanding in the world, and all of them were given to Moshe minus one, as it says, “You have made him slightly less than God” (Tehillim, 8:6).
This means that Hashem gave Moshe forty-nine levels of Torah understanding. Moshe in turn taught those forty-nine levels of Torah understanding to the Jewish people. However, Moshe did not teach the Jewish people about the Torah which exists on the fiftieth level because Moshe himself had not been taught that level by Hashem.
But when Moshiach comes, he will transmit the Chiddushei Torah from the fiftieth level to the Jewish people (Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh, Parshas Balak, 24:7; Shemos Rabba, Parshas Yisro, 28:6, Rebbi Yitzchak).
Once again, when the pasuk and Midrash talk about a “Torah Chadasha” that is coming from Hashem, it does not refer to the New Testament, but rather, it refers to the “Chiddushei Torah” which are hidden within the fiftieth level of Torah understanding. By the way, when the words “Torah Chadasha” are reversed, they read as “Chiddushei Torah.” This further supports the Arizal’s interpretation of the pasuk and Midrash.
It is also important to note that the secrets of Torah which are found in the fiftieth level of Torah understanding, are the same secrets of Torah which are referred to as “Ohr Ganuz” (hidden light). At the time of Creation, Hashem created two types of light: 1) physical and 2) spiritual.
However, Hashem stashed away a certain measure of spiritual light for the righteous people who would be alive in the futuristic time (Meseches Chagiga, chap. 2, “Ein Dorshin”, pg. 12a, Rebbi Elazar). That Ohr Ganuz is the same thing as the Chiddushei Torah found in “Sha’ar Hanun” (the fiftieth gate. The letter nun is numerically fifty. Therefore, the fiftieth level or “gate” of Torah understanding is often referred to as “Sha’ar Hanun”).
There is a source from a Midrash which supports this idea that, one day, Moshiach will teach us the Chiddushei Torah from Sha’ar Hanun. That source is found in the Yalkut Shimoni on Yeshaya (chap. 26, remez 429) which says that, in the future, Hashem will sit (so to speak) in Gan Eden and begin to teach Torah. All of the tzaddikim will be sitting in front of Hashem. The entire entourage of heaven will be standing on their feet. The sun and zodiac signs will be at God’s right side (as it were), and the moon with its stars will be at God’s left (so to speak). Hashem will sit (as it were) and teach a “Torah Chadasha” that will be taught [to the Jewish people] by the Moshiach.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that there is a hint in the word “Moshiach” which tells us that one of his jobs is to reveal these Chiddushei Torah to the Jewish people. The word “Moshiach” is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: mem, shin, yud, and ches. These four letters serve as the acronym for four words (not necessarily in order) which are, “Moshiach Yigaleh Sha’ar Chamishim” (Messiah will reveal the fiftieth gate).
At this point, we are going to identify who the Moshiach is going to be. This is a question that we have been pondering for thousands of years. There have unfortunately been a number of false and failed Messiahs. Therefore, this next bit of information is nothing less than a bomb! We have all heard of this person, and we will reveal his identity right now.
Before Ya’akov Avinu died, he blessed his children. When he got to his fourth son, Yehuda, Ya’akov said, “The scepter [of sovereignty] will not depart from Yehuda, nor a scholar from among his descendants, until Shilo arrives” (Parshas Vayechi, 49:10). Who in the world is Shilo?
The Zohar (Parshas Bereishis, pg. 25b) says that Shilo is Moshe Rabbenu. A hint which supports this claim is that the numerical value of Shilo (345) is the same exact numerical value of Moshe (345). This means to say that Ya’akov told Yehuda that he [Yehuda] would be the king of Israel, and his son would be king, and his son’s son would be king, and this process would continue until Shilo comes, because at that time, Shilo would become king. Meaning, at that time, Moshe would become King of Israel.
Another passage in the Zohar is consistent with this one. In Koheles (1:9) it says, “Mah Shehaya Hu Sheyihiyeh” (whatever has been is what will be). The Zohar in Parshas Mishpatim (pg. 120a) explains this verse in the following way. This verse is teaching us that history repeats itself. Therefore, what once was will happen again. Based on this given, who was the first goel (redeemer)? Well, the first exile was the Egyptian Exile. Therefore, the first goel was Moshe Rabbenu.
Since history repeats itself, then the last goel will also be Moshe Rabbenu. This idea is even hinted to within the verse itself. When you take the first three words, “Mah Shehaya Hu” (whatever has been), and look at the acronym of those three words, in order, they spell, “Moshe.” In other words, Moshe was the first goel. The next word of the verse is, “Sheyihiyeh” (it will be), meaning that Moshe will also be the last goel.
People often ask a question on this Zohar. How could the Zohar say that Moshe will be the Moshiach if Moshiach ben Dovid must come from the Tribe of Yehuda (see Yeshaya, 11:1-6)? Since Moshe came from the Tribe of Levi, he came from the wrong tribe in so far as Moshiach is concerned. Therefore, how could Moshe become Moshiach? The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh (Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, 1696 Morocco-1743 Yerushalayim) asks this question in Parshas Vayechi (49:10), and he also answers it.
He says that Moshe Rabbenu possessed an all-encompassing soul from which all other Jewish souls stem from. This explains how Moshe could hold every possible position during his tenure as leader of the Jewish people. For example, during the Days of Inauguration, Moshe served as the Kohein Gadol. After initiating Aharon as Kohein Gadol, Moshe became a Levi. Moshe was also a Melech of the Jewish people. Moshe was also wealthy (finance minister), he was a prophet, a chacham, and a healer (health minister).
How could Moshe hold every possible position and succeed at it? It is because Moshe would simply tap into any stream of any tribe that stemmed from him. If Hashem needed Moshe to be Melech, Moshe would connect with the stream of Yehuda that flowed from within himself. If Hashem needed Moshe to be a Kohein Gadol, Moshe would tap into the stream of kehunaship that flowed from himself.
An example of this would be a tree trunk out of which stemmed twelve branches. From the twelve branches grew six hundred thousand twigs. Moshe was like the tree trunk. The twelve branches represent the twelve Tribes, and the six hundred thousand twigs represent the six hundred thousand primary souls of the Jewish people who come from the twelve tribes.
It turns out that all Jewish neshamos stemmed from Moshe Rabbenu’s mother soul. Therefore, Moshe does not have to come from the Tribe of Yehuda. It is the other way around. Yehuda comes from Moshe. Dovid stems from Moshe. When Hashem will need Moshe to be Melech Hamoshiach, Moshe will just tap into the stream of Yehuda and Malchus Beis Dovid which flow from within himself and thereby be able to carry out Hashem’s mission.
From all of this it turns out that Moshiach will reveal the fiftieth level of Torah understanding to the Jewish people, and Moshe Rabbenu will be that person. This fits in very nicely from the perspective that Moshe began teaching the Jewish people Torah, and Moshe will finish the job at the End of Days as the Moshiach. Moshe already taught us forty-nine levels of Torah, and he will come back to teach us the fiftieth (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 21, pg. 51a).
Now we can tie all of this back in to our story regarding Bnos Tzelafchad. The Shvilei Pinchas says that when Moshe told the people, “Bring me all of your difficult questions (Parshas Devarim, 1:17)” he was not showing off. Rather, Moshe simply wanted to encourage the Jewish people. Over time, the Jewish people had asked penetrating questions. Some of those questions remained painfully unanswerable. People can begin to lose hope on account of such tough questions.
Moshe complimented the people by telling them that the answers to their sharp and piercing questions would require the fiftieth level of Torah. Moshe had not yet received that level and as such could not assist them with those answers. However, Moshe said to them, “Bring me your most difficult questions in the future because I will be back as Moshiach and, at that time, I will have answers for you because Hashem will have already taught me the teachings found in Sha’ar Hanun.”
In fact, the word for “Bring me” is “Takrivun” (Parshas Devarim, 1:17). If you move the last letter (the letter nun) away from the rest of the word, it spells two words which are, “Takrivu – nun.” This means, “Bring me your questions that stem from the Sha’ar Hanun because eventually I will have the answers for you.”
This was not considered to be haughty. It was just a way of strengthening the people so that they should not lose hope on account of their questions.
At this point, we will be able to understand why the specific law concerning the Bnos Tzelafchad was concealed from Moshe. Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340, Spain; Parshas Pinchas) says that it is because the law about the daughters of Tzelafchad stemmed from the Sha’ar Hanun. Since Moshe was never taught that Sha’ar, he could not have known the answer.
The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, the second Gerrer Rebbe, 1847-1905, Poland; Parshas Masei) says that, based on this Rabbenu Bachya, we can understand why the letter nun of the word “Mishpatan” (and Moshe brought Mishpatan – their claim – before Hashem; Parshas Pinchas, 27:5) is a large nun, much larger than all of the other nuns out there. It is because this comes to teach us that the law regarding Bnos Tzelafchad stemmed from the Sha’ar Hanun. That was why Moshe had to bring the matter before Hashem. It was because Moshe did not know the laws that stemmed from the Sha’ar Hanun.
The Sfas Emes adds that this explains the reason behind how many stations the Jewish people encamped in during their stay in the wilderness. Rashi in Parshas Masei (33:1) says that the Jewish people encamped at forty-two stations in the midbar.
However, Rashi in our parsha, Parshas Pinchas (26:13) quotes a Yerushalmi in Meseches Yoma (chap. 1, halacha 2) which teaches us that after Aharon died and the Clouds of Glory stopped functioning, there were Jewish men who were petrified of an attack from the nations since their “force-field” had been removed from them. Those men began running back toward Mitzrayim thinking that they would be safer there. Before they were stopped, they went back eight stations.
When you put these two Rashis together, it turns out that the Jewish people encamped at fifty stations altogether. The reason why they journeyed to specifically fifty stations will be understood from the following Zohar.
The Zohar says that Yetziyas Mitzrayim is mentioned fifty times in the Torah. The reason for this is to teach us that when the Jewish people were liberated from Mitzrayim, they did not just emerge from the forty-ninth level of impurity, and they did not only enter into the forty-ninth level of Torah understanding, but they even reached the fiftieth level of Torah understanding.
You are probably wondering how we can say that they reached the fiftieth level if until this point we have been asserting that the Jews only reached the forty-ninth level of understanding. That is an excellent question. The answer is that the Jews only reached the fiftieth level for a brief moment. At Har Sinai, when they said “Na’aseh v’Nishma” (Parshas Mishpatim, 24:7), they reached such a high spiritual level that they tasted the Sha’ar Hanun.
However, this was short lived because soon after Kabbalas Hatorah the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf. As a result of that, they lost the fiftieth level and they probably lost many more levels than that as well.
By the way, this is why they counted (and we still count) specifically forty-nine days from Yetziyas Mitzrayim until Matan Torah, and this is why Shavuos is celebrated on the fiftieth day. It is because these numbers come to teach us that the Jews reached the forty-ninth level, and they even reached the fiftieth level, even if it was for a short period of time.
This explains why the Jews encamped at fifty stations altogether in the midbar. It is because they were supposed to learn from the different experiences in each station in order to try and reobtain the fifty levels of Torah understanding.
The Sfas Emes goes on to say that the story of Bnos Tzelafchad occurred at the last station in the Trans-Jordan. This fiftieth station corresponded to the fiftieth level of Torah understanding. Therefore, the question raised by the daughters of Tzelafchad stemmed from the fiftieth level.
At first, Moshe did not know the answer to their question. How could he? He himself had not yet learned the fiftieth level. But then, Hashem did disclose the answer to their question to Moshe. This means that Hashem did teach Moshe the fiftieth level.
Since this incident happened shortly before Moshe’s death, we are seeing that, at the end of his life, Hashem did teach Moshe the Sha’ar Hanun. The Arizal (Likkutei Torah, Parshas Vaeschanan) says that this is hinted to in a verse which talks about the moments prior to Moshe’s death which says, “Vaya’al Moshe Mei-arvos Moav El Har Nevo” (and Moshe ascended from the plains of Moav to Mount Nevo; Parshas V’zos Haberacha, 34:1).
Another way of reading this pasuk is like this:
“Vaya’al Moshe” = and Moshe had a spiritual elevation…
“Mei-arvos” = to be read as “Mei-arivos” – from the sweetness of…
“Moav” = which is numerically forty-nine…meaning, Moshe ascended from the Torah sweetness of the forty-ninth level…
“El” = to…
“Nevo” = which is made up of the letters “nun, beis, vov,” which can be split into two words which can be read as, “Nun-Bo” (there are fifty in it). Meaning that by the time Moshe ascended Mount Nevo, he had already possessed the Sha’ar Hanun.
In other words, Moshe ascended from the forty-ninth level to the fiftieth level. Since Moshe only received the deep teachings of the fiftieth level shortly before he died, he did not have enough time to teach the Jewish people the teachings of Sha’ar Hanun.
Therefore, Moshe told the Jews, “In the future, bring me all of those ‘unanswerable’ questions because I’ll be back as Moshiach, at which time I will teach you the fiftieth level.” This was not arrogance. It was merely encouragement for the Jewish people that eventually they would have all of their questions answered.
Today, we are at the threshold of Sha’ar Hanun because we are living at the End of Days. One way for us to be zocheh to the Sha’ar Hanun would be to learn as much Torah as we can because that would demonstrate our thirst for Torah. This will serve as a catalyst for us to receive the final layer of Torah understanding.
Another way to be zocheh to the Sha’ar Hanun would be to cling to Eretz Yisrael as much as we can just like the Bnos Tzelafchad did. After all, it says that the avira (air; atmosphere) of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise (Baba Basra, chap. 9, “Mi Sh’meis”, Rebbi Zeira).
In Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 16:4; expounding on Parshas Bereishis, 2:12) it says that there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and there is no chochma (wisdom) like the chochma of Eretz Yisrael. So, our dedication to Eretz Yisrael would serve as a key to receiving the deepest and highest teachings from the Sha’ar Hanun.
So, after our forty-nine stations throughout our long exile, may we all be blessed to ascend from our modern day “Moav” (49) to the beautiful mountains of Eretz Yisrael which are on par with Mount Nevo, and may we be zocheh for Moshe, our Moshiach, to complete his job as law giver by teaching us the highest Torahs from Sha’ar Hanun, which will be like a whole new Torah to us, because that will be the time when we will get the closest to Hashem Whose Presence will no longer be hidden from the world.
Good Shabbos

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Rabbi Aba Wagensberg, a close Talmid of Harav HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, ZT”L, is a sought-after lecturer in institutions in Israel and abroad. Rabbi Wagensberg is the author of "Inspiring Change" (about self growth) and "A Shot of Torah" (a collection of shorter divrei Torah on the Parsha and holidays), as well as weekly Torah articles. He has created a Torah audio and video library and can also be heard weekly on the Lakewood radio station, Kol Berama 107.9 FM.