We all struggle with emunah, especially the kind of emunah described by the Rambam in his Thirteen Principles of Faith. In this week’s parshah we find wonderful role models of women who embodied the concept of emunah: the daughters of Tzelafchad (Bnot Tzelafchad).
Interestingly, these five strong women would not have fared well in contemporary times had they been set up for an interview with a shadchanit. Let’s imagine the scene: five older singles sitting before your typical shadchanit busily consulting her files. “Okay,” she says. “Let’s start with the basics. How old are you?” The youngest, her hair already turning gray, says, “I’m 40.” The oldest answers, “I’m 60.” Not off to a great start. When the shadchanit inquires about their yichus, all they can muster is, “Our father died in the midbar. He was the first mechalel Shabbat (Shabbat desecrator).”
Because all five of his offspring were female and not married, Tzelafchad’s daughters had no portion in the land, in Eretz Yisrael. Plus, they had a reputation for being very scrupulous about every mitzvah and stringency, something Chazal say was not particularly appreciated by the menfolk in those times. If we look at their circumstances, what chance did they have to ever find their zivvugim? Still, the Bnot Tzelafchad refused to compromise. They waited patiently for husbands who shared the same unwavering appreciation for Torah, and truly believed that they would merit to build their own homes one day.
The attitude of the daughters of Tzelafchad was “Yes, we can!” Even though their situation seemed dire, they were filled with positivity, and their belief kept them going. Because they always said, “Tov Hashem lakol,” Hashem is good to all, they merited to bear children until the age of 130.
Another virtue mentioned by the Midrash was “vatikravna,” literally “and they drew close.” This not only means that they approached Moshe to discuss their legal status, but that they also kept close to each other. Many times, older singles avoid each other like the plague, as their unmarried peers remind them of their own loneliness. But the five sisters faced their challenges together, infusing each other with strength.
An additional attribute of the Bnot Tzelafchad was that they would often examine their actions to discuss how they could improve them. They ultimately came to the conclusion that they were lacking in kibbud av because they hadn’t done enough to absolve their father’s name, who was in essence a tzaddik whose intention was to show the rest of the nation how severe the punishment was for chillul Shabbat.
Aside from being learned in Torah, as demonstrated by the question they posed to Moshe, the daughters of Tzelafchad also had the keen sense to know when to approach him, understanding when the time was right. The Ben Ish Chai says that the months of Tammuz and Av are an opportune period to ask for a home, because now is the time when Hashem mourns His. At this time of year, when Hashem mourns the destruction of His own Bayit, He remembers the depth of a single woman’s pain.
Often, women who are waiting like the bnot Tzelafchad ask me, “There’s a tefillah for every type of nisayon (challenge), but there’s no tefillah for someone like me. What should I say?” I tell them, “Your tefillah is ‘Uv’nei Yerushalayim.’ When you daven for the rebuilding of Jerusalem you are sharing the same pain and anguish as Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Who is also waiting for His home to be rebuilt.’”
The last virtue enumerated by the Midrash was their frumkeit and unwavering yirat shamayim. Unfazed by those who suggested that perhaps they should relax their standards, the daughters of Tzelafchad maintained them proudly. To women who are tzenuot Hashem says, “You are like the structure of the Beit Hamikdash.” He gives them so much merit. We live in a time of information hunger. We must know everything there is to know about everyone and everything, all the time. Suddenly, when the three boys were tragically kidnapped, Hy”d, we had no clue. . The entire IDF searched intently for weeks without finding them.
We were unfortunately experiencing the klalah (curse) of “v’anochi haster astir et panai bayom hahu.” Hashem had hidden His face from us. The Maharal from Prague explains that when Hashem hides in this manner, only the modest women of the generation can save us. Citing Queen Esther as an example, he describes how bleak the situation was for the Jews before the miracle of Purim. The letters decreeing their destruction had already been signed! Then Esther, the modest, hidden one, came along and was instrumental in their salvation. The message for our own times is not lost.
In the haftarah of last week’s parshah, Parshat Balak, we read, “What does Hashem your G-d request of you? Asot mishpat v’ahavat chesed, v’hatznei’a lechet im Elokecha.” To perform acts of justice, which is an external deed; to love chesed, which is internal; and to be tzanua, which is a combination of both. Chazal surprise us by explaining that “v’hatznei’a lechet” refers to the mitzvot of halvayat hameit, escorting the dead, and hachnasat kallah, assisting a bride. But aren’t these public events? What is their connection to the mitzvah of tzniut, which obligates us to be modest and shun the limelight?
Rav Shlomo Wolbe in his musar sefer, Alei Shur, explains that it is precisely at public events and on special occasions where the real test of tzniut lies. Can you maintain your standards of modesty when you want to look your best? When your daughter or sister is getting married and you want to look especially beautiful, what are your priorities? I was faced with this nisayon (challenge) before the wedding of my eldest daughter. After having already bought an exquisite long gown for myself, the chatan’s mother happened to ask me whether I would be wearing a long or short dress for the wedding. When I replied that I would be wearing a gown, she told me she had bought a short dress for herself, and I sensed that she wouldn’t feel comfortable if I were attired more elaborately.
It was very hard for me, but I went out and bought myself a short dress. The long one is still hanging in my closet, and anyone who wants to wear it for a simchah is welcome to borrow it. I know this is an un-tzanua story because I’m bragging about my wonderful middot, but the point is that I know how hard the nisayon can be. I recently said to my talmidot, “Let’s make a ‘gemach’ for tzniut in the merit of the three kidnapped boys. When we cover ourselves, Hashem removes His covering, his hastarah.” Now that their fate has been discovered, rachmana litzlan, I ask them to do it l’iluy nishmatam.
Tomorrow morning, when you’re standing in front of your closet, holding that shirt or skirt in your hands, be honest with yourself. If you know it would be better to put it aside and wear something else, say to yourself, “This is my gemach, for the sake of…” The more we cover up, the more Hashem will help us discover—especially in a time when the hester panim is so great. B’ezrat Hashem, by doing what is right with steadfast emunah like the daughters of Tzelafchad, may we all merit to build a beautiful personal bayit, as well as Hashem’s Bayit, still in this month.