We have just started the Three Weeks period of mourning for our national losses. Next Shabbat we announce the new month of Av and include in our prayers that it should bring upon us “tovah,” “good.” What particular good do we need at this time?
In Chapters 25 and 26 of the parshah, we read of the commanded census of the Israelites to prepare for war against the Midianites and the planned allotment of land in Eretz Yisrael to the tribes according to lots (bagoral), a democratic process.
In Chapter 27, we hear the voices of the five daughters of Tzlafchad from the tribe of Menashe the son of Yosef. They present an orderly, step-by-step, soft-spoken but persistent petition of their right to inheritance to Moses, to Elazar the new High Priest, and to the heads of the tribes. They stand in respect — vata’amodnah — and they come close — vatikravnah — and they gently speak in words that Moses and God find compelling.
God says: Ken b’not tzlafchad dovrot. They are right. If a man dies and he has no sons to inherit his land, indeed the inheritance should go to his daughters.
We should take note: theirs is not a demand, or a heated invective against someone or something, but rather a thoughtful, sane, clear presentation of what is yosher, fair, and tzedek, just. This is the kind of shakla v’tarian, principled give and take, that B’nei Yisrael should be engaging in all the time, every day in every way, and it is the tovah we especially should activate in these Three Weeks.
It is not surprising that the mitzvah of korban tamid, the daily sacrifice, is announced after this incident. We need the regularity of sacrificing something of ourselves, not sacrificing the other before God. We need more benevolence, kindness, and darchei noam, ways of pleasantness, in our public discourse. That is the best way to revive our personal and communal spirits, especially as we contemplate how we demeaned one another and lost our collective power to safeguard our Holy Temple and Holy City, Jerusalem.
When Am Yisrael is hurting, we don’t need harsh pronouncements from rabbis or other leaders to tell us who is in and who is out. We can’t afford self-righteousness and finger pointing. We need respect for one another and the willingness to do one another a tovah, a favor.