Every decision, every choice, has an outcome. Sometimes the consequences are as intended, other times they are not. Sometimes we get unexpected results. Sometimes the effects are only local, other times the effects can be quite distant (and surprising.)
None of us are surprised by this. It’s how life works. For some, however, this challenges their understanding of G”d. If G”d is truly omniscient, then no consequence is unforeseen or unknown to G”d. This is one the reasons that many modern theologians embrace the concept of a limited G”d (whether self-limited or externally by the nature of the universe.) I certainly find it easier to embrace the idea of a deity that is limited. It matters little to me if that limitation is self-imposed by the deity in question, if the deity is actually limited by forces beyond it’s control (and no, I don’t see that as oxymoronic,) or if, in the act of creating a universe with a specific set of physical laws the deity in effect became self-limited.(You can also extend this to the concept of free-will. By giving creations free-will, is not the deity effectively self-limiting?)
Having thought and written about all this, I was surprised to find myself wrestling with why we have sequel to the Zelophehad’s daughters story here in our parasha, dealing with a (perhaps unforeseen) consequence of G”d’s original instructions to allow Zelophehad’s daughter to inherit. Whoops! Somebody missed the boat at the time on this one. What happens when the daughters then marry into other clans? Theoretically, their inheritances could wind up the property of the clan into which they marry, thus putting a kink into the system, one that even the year of Jubilee would not resolve. So in this parasha the unexpected consequence gets fixed.
The solution, not surprisingly, is somewhat misogynist. Zelophehad’s daughters can marry anyone they wish – as long as that person is from a clan of their father’s tribe! The girls were obedient and married their cousins (on their father’s side.) (I think it is editorial of the JPS to use the words “the sons of their uncles” as the translation from the Hebrew, for, although it is accurate, is doesn’t have the impact of saying they married their own cousins. A little whitewashing, perhaps?
In any case, all week long I have been bothered by this. Why wasn’t this issue settled from the beginning, at the time G”d (through Moses) decided that the daughters of Zelophehad could inherit from their father? I find it hard to believe that this possible consequence simply escaped the minds of everyone involved, including G”d, Moshe, and just about everyone else! I mean, this is practically a “duh!”
We can play the inscrutable G”d card to explain why G”d decided to deal with this when it came up rather than right away, even though an omniscient G”d would surely have seen that far ahead. We can play the busy or limited G”d card to explain it away. We can rationalize and say that people (even G”d) often play the “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” game.
I’m just not finding any of those answers satisfactory for now. Being in this mood causes me to question more. What about the request of some tribes to allow to settle on the west side of the Jordan? Surely that was predictable. (In addition, as long as we’re going down this rabbit hole, isn’t a lot of it predictable – the continual stubbornness and recalcitrance of the Israelites, Korakh’s rebellion, the reactions to the reports of the spies, and so on?
Ah, we humans with our need to know, to understand. A blessing and a curse. (How very Jewish.)
As I have said many times before, I see this as Torah’s gift. I am glad for a Torah that does not leave me complacent, but instead leaves me perplexed, questioning, sometimes even angry. Thanks, Torah. May your Shabbat be equally relaxing and troubled as mine will be.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Matot-Masei 5770 – Treasure Trove of Trouble
Masei 5768 – Accidents Matter
Matot 5768/5765-Even Moshe Rabbeinu Had to Punt
Matot-Masei 5766 – First Fruit
Matot-Masey 5764-Putting the Kids Before the Kids
Matot–Masey 5763-Over the Top
Matot–Masey 5762–The Rebel’s Complaint and Promises, Promises