photo Mission 21

Elaine Neuenfeldt

Numbers 27

Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

… Five women are named in this story. In this family, there were no men, no husbands, no brothers left, only 5 daughters. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They stood before a high level panel of men: Moses, the great leader chosen by God, the priest, the leaders, and the entire congregation to request their rights to inherit their father’s land.  And the request echoed among all. We can imagine that maybe the whole congregation was involved, whispering: are women aloud to speak publicly? And even to request something? What do they think? Do they want to change our traditions? It was always like this, said an old woman shaking her head!! That’s an audacity, screamed a man walking away.

… A conversation took place: Moses and God discussed. And God said to Moses, who announced to the people:

What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right’ (Num 27:7).

And more… the law must change. It is not an isolated case only for these 5 women. These five women had the courage to struggle for the law to be changed. It was not an individual request for a personal benefit. The personal need was turned into a political and communitarian request. It was not only an act of good will with these women, but an intentional change of the structure acknowledging that this is justice for all.

This reflection today, celebrating International women’s day, challenge us to reflect. There are times when we have to struggle for laws that are discriminatory and unjust. The only thing to do is to struggle for change. There must be redouble efforts so that processes, mechanisms and policies must be set in place so that justice prevails. Good intentions alone are not enough.

In dialog with Heidi Zingg

The text is a sermon prepared in the context of being church and community in Switzerland. The author, Heidi Zingg Knöpfli is inviting us to remember the five daughters, Machla, Noa, Hogla, Milka and Tirza, as women who took leadership and acted with much wisdom for their rights, who enthusiastically organized themselves to shape their future when the time came for action, and who search for solutions and built on the knowledge of where to go want to change their situation.

The reflection is developed to see critically what is individual concern and what is communitarian interest – and when is wise to to keep silent and to take a step back in order to preserve common good.

The story of the 5 women, who receive names, and have a very bold and protagonic act reivindicating their right sis still not much known in the biblical interpretation reception history. Therefore, the Women and Gender work in Mission 21 is very keen in contributing to a movement of reading biblical text, with the interface of women’s  experiences, from all contexts and communities, connecting women’s struggle for equality and justice as common and shared goal.