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Parshas Pinchas - "My Grandmother Regina & The Daughter's of Tzelafchad"                               22 Tammuz 5782

07/28/2022 04:43:37 PM


This Dvar Torah is L’ilui Nishmas, in memory of Regina Avigdor Bogopulsky - Rivka bas Moshe Aharon & Batsheva on her Yahrzeit

Today, the 22nd of Tammuz, is the Yahrzeit (yearly anniversary of death) of my “grandmother” Regina who passed away June 30th, 1994. It may sound odd that I refer to my grandmother by her first name and not by the traditional bubbe, safta or grandma. The reason is because she was my step-grandmother. She and my late grandfather z”l  had a wonderful second marriage of about twenty-two years until my grandfather passed away. Since both of my natural grandmothers passed away before I was born, and my grandfather re-married before I was born, Regina was effectively the only grandmother I had ever known.

Even though Regina had her own children and grandchildren, she treated me, the youngest of my grandfather’s grandchildren,  as one of her own. There are two  vivid memories I hold dear: The first was when she bought me a very sophisticated hockey set/game for my ninth birthday, a treasured gift which cost $100.00. . It was packaged in a large 3x5 box which she happily shlepped (carried)  to my house from Linick’s Toys store which was a few long blocks away. The second memory I treasure was the always -available variety of large, thick, sugar cookies, so delicious that I can still savor their taste in my mouth. I have never seen or tasted sugar cookies like those ever again in my life; they were one of a kind. Following my grandfather’s death, my parents visited with her regularly for the rest of her life.  She proudly attended my wedding and was prominent in all the family pictures. Unfortunately, once I moved away I was no longer able to visit her.  She passed away a few years after my wedding. I look back now, twenty-eight years later, remembering with total clarity how wonderful she was to my grandfather, and what a wonderful, nurturing grandmother (the only grandparent I ever had) she was to me.

Jewish women throughout our history have played an immense role in both the private world of their homes as well as in the national spotlight.  For me, Regina was my personal national spotlight.  I thank her posthumously for all she did for me. Regina was proud of me and treated me as one of her own grandchildren. To be honest, however, her biological grandchildren - understandably so - were the shining stars of her world. I believe the correct relationship for me regarding her grandchildren would be ‘stepcousins’. One of the older step cousins, Aidel, married Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald who penned* the following dvar Torah in the year 2000 just six years after Regina passed away. In my opinion Rabbi Buchwald’s words encapsulate a core aspect of our grandmother. May this be a zchus and an Aliyah for her neshama.            

“In this coming week’s parshas Pinchas, we learn of the precedent-shattering request of the daughters of Tzelafchad. The Torah, in Bamidbar 27, records that the five daughters of Tzelafchad came before Moshe, Elazar the Priest, the Princes of the Israelite tribes, and the entire congregation at the door of the Tabernacle. The women claimed that their father had died in the wilderness and had left no sons. The Torah in Bamidbar states in 27:4"למה יגרע שם אבינו מתוך משפחתו כי אין לו בן, תנה לנו אחוזה בתוך  :אחי אבינו"   “Why should our father’s name be disadvantaged in his family merely because he did not have a son? Give us a portion of land along with our father’s brothers.”

The Torah relates that since Moses did not know the immediate answer, he brought the question before God. God told Moshe that the claim of the daughters of Tzelafchad was justified and instructed Moshe to transfer the inheritance of their father to them. In further clarification, God states that if a man dies and leaves no sons, his property shall first transfer to his daughters, and only afterwards, if there are no female heirs, to other close relatives.

This scriptural portion is indeed remarkable. After all, why didn’t the Torah just include this law, that the property of a man who leaves no male heirs transfers to his daughters, as part of the regular legal portions that appear throughout the Torah? Why was it necessary for the daughters to approach Moses, and why was Moshe incapable of responding, making it necessary for him to get the answer directly from Hashem?

We live in an age where many disenfranchised, or so-called disenfranchised, people make claims about historic injustices. They demand that the discriminatory practices cease and often request compensation for previous injustices. While surely many of these claims are legitimate, the practice of discriminatory claims has become so widespread, and in certain instances has gotten so out of hand, that it’s been quipped, only half in jest, that soon left-handed people will start class-action suits against public accommodations which have staircase rails only on the right.

Distinguishing between a legitimate claim and a non-legitimate claim has become an art. And with the factor of “political correctness” often being added into the mix, woe unto the person who does not show proper respect to those claims — legitimate or not!

The Torah was the first universal document to insist that a man provide for and adequately support his wife, as we learn from Shmos 21:10, “Sh’era, k’sutah, v’onatah lo yig’rah,” Men must provide their wives with food, clothing, and physical pleasure. Furthermore, the entire narrative of the book of Exodus indicates that, were it not for the women, the Jewish people would never have been redeemed from Egypt — in each case citing the errant behavior of the men and the faithful behavior of the women. The Torah (Deut. 24:1) is also the first document in human history to provide for divorce for unsuccessful marriages. The Gemara/Talmud Sanhedrin 76b states movingly that one must love one’s wife as much as oneself and honor her more than himself. It is indeed fascinating to note that the male-dominated Halakhic hierarchy of Jewish law has worked assiduously over the millennia to expand the rights and privileges of women, particularly remarkable since this was done at the time when other civilizations were limiting the rights of women. It was not so long ago that women in some countries of the Orient were expected to jump into the grave and be buried alive after their husbands died. The Gemara Arachin 19a teaches that an older woman in the house is a treasure and a blessing.

Now back to the earlier question. Why indeed was the law of inheritance of daughters not included in the general legal sections of the Bible? Why was it necessary to ask G-d to render a decision? Perhaps because Halakha, Jewish law, is an evolving law. Clearly the social status and positions of both men and women change as society evolves. Could it be that the Al-mighty was signaling us that as the role of women changes in secular society, the role of women needs to be reevaluated in the religious society. But, of course, there is a caveat — if the laws of secular society controvert any of the values and laws of the Torah, they must not be followed. To the contrary, they must be rejected. However, when the laws and customs of society do not clash with Jewish law, then Jews must take a leading stand in the efforts to expand women’s rights and privileges.”

The laws that we learn from the episode of the daughters of Tzelafchad were a revolutionary breakthrough in society and family. Clearly, my grandmother Regina was a modern-day daughter of Tzelafchad. She was a true woman of valor of her time. Women of strength, clarity of thought and dedicated devotion to their families, women such as my grandmother, Regina, are the shining stars of our time. They exist to help us all understand the nature of Torah and the nature of the Torah’s perspective on women.

*This is an edited and truncated version of the original.

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784