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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Pinchas

07/11/2014 02:09:16 PM


YIP Parsha Project

Parshat Pinchas                                                                                                         Gary Katz

In memory of Gershon Ben Menachem, father of Shelley Katz


Over our lifetimes as parents, we hear a steady drumbeat of the phrase "it's not fair" from our children.  When our children are young, it takes the form of a whiny, repetitive protest and when they grow older it can develop into a statement of righteous indignation.  Sometimes it is because a child does not get ice cream when they want it before dinner rather than after as desert or because you have asked them to stop playing video games after two hours of nonstop play.  Most of the time, we hear from our children that "it's not fair" when they perceive that you have treated them differently than a sibling. Such as when one child's bedtime hour is earlier because they are younger or when one child is forced to do homework while another is allowed to go out and play.  As children grow older, "it's not fair" can revolve around favoritism and inheritance as this week's Parsha deals with.

In fact, while we have all been brought up to believe that life should be fair, in many instances it is in fact not.  Who hasn't had a professor or manager who did not play by the rules.  How many times have we wondered why a good, loving person is taken by Hashem early, before their time.  Some say that the most important lesson we can teach our children is to recognize that life is simply not fair and how to react to true vs. perceived variations of fairness.

This however sets up a challenge for all of us to consider.  When should we shrug our shoulders after being "dealt a bad card from the deck" and accept an unfair outcome?  In many situations the right yet frustrating answer is simply that "life is unfair." In Judaism we can blunt this frustration by the belief that "life is unfair, but it may be for a reason, beyond our understanding, that ultimately makes it fair."  On the other hand, an adult that regularly chants "it's not fair" whenever they do not get their way will quickly be dismissed as difficult to work with, a constant complainer or impossible to please. 

How do we find balance and decide when to push back?  

In this week's Parsha, we learn of the five daughters of Tzlofchad and their impact on the laws of inheritance.  The five sisters pushed back, respectfully, and said "it's not fair."  After learning that Hashem had decreed that land ownership was passed only from father to son, they beseeched Moshe and the leaders of Israel to reconsider this law.

A petition was presented by the daughters of Tzlofchad . . . And they stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the princes and the entire community at the door of the Tent of Meeting, with the following petition:

“Our father died in the desert . . . without leaving any sons. Why should our father’s name be disadvantaged in his family merely because he had no son? Give to us a portion of land along with our father’s brothers.”

The daughters recognized already then, the importance of inheritance as a mechanism to ensure that families maintain their position within an economic strata.  Time and again, studies in modern times support this notion that one's financial status is highly correlated with the financial accomplishments of one's parents.  The reasons for this is that inheritance from parent to children ensures that property and a lifetime of earnings stay in the family.  Even modern tax laws support this protection of a parents' lifetime of work.  We owe the "fairness" of this process to these five sisters.

Here we see that at times it is critical to stand up and say "it's not fair."

The second important lesson we learn in this week's Parsha is how to handle a child or adult plea to reconsider one's position.  The manner in which Hashem answers Moshe's request for reconsideration of the decree in light of the daughter's circumstances is one that all parents can learn from.  When the five daughters said "it's not fair," Hashem did not say "it's fair because I say so" or "sorry, life's not fair." He recognized that he could make things right by changing the laws of inheritance to allow daughters to inherit land when there were no sons.  We as parents can determine whether the plea of "it's not fair" is due to perceptions that require the maturity of an adult to understand or are in fact protestations based on real injustices.  We need to stop and listen, like Hashem, and consider the circumstances and importantly be willing to change our position when appropriate and necessary.

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Sat, January 23 2021 10 Shevat 5781