Posted by: Steve Coplan | July 14, 2006

Parsha of the week — to conquer the land

In general, I am lukewarm to the Lubavitcher or Chabad school of thought, but this interpretation of the episode of the daughters of Tzelofahad which established the inheritance principle within halacha that daughters may also inherit mentioned in this week’s parsha of Pinhas, resonates with the events of the last 48 hours. (note: quoted verbatim)
If a man die, and have no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter (Devarim 27:8)

The Kabbalistic masters taught that every soul has a “portion in the land”–a piece of G-d’s world that he or she have been charged to sanctify. Thus a person’s mission in life can be seen as consisting of two primary objectives: a) the refinement and elevation of his own soul, self and character; b) the refinement and elevation of his “portion” of the material world, by developing the material resources which have been placed under his control or influence as a “home for G-d”–a place that serves and houses the Divine truth. The latter objective is the essence of the mitzvah to “conquer the Land of Canaan” and transform it into a “Holy Land.”

(This was the failing of the “generation of the desert”: while they achieved an “Exodus from Egypt”–a liberation from the bounds that constrict the soul–they were unwilling to assume the challenge of “conquering the land”–transforming the material world into a home for G-d.)

The nature of the material is that it is resistant and hostile to G-dliness. “Conquest of the land”–it would therefore seem–requires that a person go to battle with the material world, suppress and subjugate its materialistic nature and impose on it a higher purpose and function.

But not everyone is a warrior. The Talmud says of the human race, “Just as their faces are different, so are their characters different.” There are bold characters and meek characters, aggressive natures and passive dispositions; there are those who revel in challenge, and those who are all but devoid of the warrior instinct and the zeal for confrontation. Are the latter exempt from the mission to “conquer the land”? And if they are not, how are they to achieve it?

Therein lies the deeper significance of the laws of inheritance as commanded by G-d in response to the petition by the daughters of Tzelafchad.

Before the daughters of Tzelafchad came along, common wisdom ascertained that if a person lacks a “son”–an aggressive and combative nature–he or she may deduce from this that he has no role to play in the “conquest of the land.” Such a person may therefore devote all his energies to the refinement of his inner self, and leave the task of sanctifying an unholy world to those with “sons.”

The daughters of Tzelafchad knew otherwise. Conquering and settling the land, they insisted, is not an exclusively masculine endeavor. True, this is a task which often calls for aggressiveness and confrontation; but there is also a feminine way to transform the materiality of our lives into a “Holy Land.”

G-d agreed. “If a man & has no son,” He instructed, “you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter”–his “portion in the land” can be possessed and developed by the passive, compassionate, non-confrontational side of his soul.

This is the law of life revealed by the daughters of Tzelafchad: Not all conquests are achieved by overpowering one’s adversary. At times, receptiveness and empathy are equally, if not more, effective in overcoming the hostility of the “enemy” and transforming its very nature. The absence of a “male heir” in the soul may in fact indicate the presence of a feminine self no less capable of claiming the soul’s portion in the world and transforming it into a “home for G-d.”

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

The limitations of approaching a situation with overwhelming force should be immediately apparent to anyone monitoring events in the Middle East. The intensity and seriousness of the situation has escalated so quickly that it looks inevitable that a state of war will ensue. This is an enormously dangerous situation given that the Bush administration lacks the credibilty to mediate, has no defined strategy and can’t afford another display of rank incompetence. Likewise, Iran has every interest in inflaming the situation (and possibly even provoked intentionally through its Hizbullah proxies) to displace any internal divisions over the progess toward democracy. Syria too needs a distraction from internal politics, and threatening war against a perenial foe should serve to unify the country. Hizbullah are an unreasonable lot, hellbent on Israel’s complete destruction, but the Israel’s strategy of hitting hard may be due for a review.

Interesting blog post on Jewschool on whether Creating the State of Israel the Jews’ Worst Strategic Mistake Ever?  Some of my thoughts on the issue are here and here.



  1. Interesting inspriration for your views considering that the Rebbe was considered a “Hawk”.

  2. Indeed. I believe he was also known as a man of deep compassion.

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