Pinchas for Tots

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10−30:1

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

The daughters of Zelophehad…came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, "Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah's faction, which banded together against the Eternal, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father's name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father's kinsmen!"

-Numbers 27:1-4

"No fair! You can't do that." How many times have parents and teachers heard those words uttered by young children? It almost seems that as soon as they are able to form the words, the declarations begin. What is it about the concept of "fairness" that becomes so important at such a young age? How can we, as adults, help children follow their instincts while simultaneously broadening their perspective in this area?

The statement we began with, or at least the sentiment-it's not fair-stems from a very basic and visceral feeling. Even before they can articulate the concepts of right and wrong, young children seem to know deep down when they have been wronged, when something is unfair. We can help children negotiate these feelings by establishing and consistently applying rules.

What are these "rules?" For young children, the rules of fairness include establishing expectations and consequences that are applied consistently to all. In both classrooms and families there are rules, and, in fact, talking about the rules that are particular to a family or a classroom can help kids understand why different standards apply in different situations.

For example, it may not seem fair to your child that his friend Max gets cookies in his lunch every day while your child does not. One way to help explain the perceived injustice is that the rules in Max's family may be different from the rules in yours.

By establishing rules that are clearly defined, including the spelling out of consequences for rules not followed, you are giving your child(ren) a context for understanding and navigating their social milieu. By modeling, encouraging and listening you are establishing and strengthening a foundation of fairness for your children.

When dealing with young children and their ideas and feelings about justice and fairness, the concepts seem very personal. Justice and fairness, however, are pillars of modern society and certainly of Judaism. In Parashat Pinchas, we read about five women, the daughters of Zelophehad, who feel that their family will experience an injustice unless they fight for what they feel is right. When Zelophehad died, his five daughters were not legally entitled to receive his property. Such things were passed on through sons, of which Zelophehad had none.

Fearlessly, the daughters brought their case to Moses and the leaders of Israel: "Let not our father's name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father's kinsmen!" (On some level, they were expressing the same sentiment we mentioned earlier: "No fair! You can't do that!") Moses, in turn, brought the issue before God, and not only were the daughters granted inheritance rights, but the laws regarding daughters inheriting property were established for all.

By following their instincts and fighting for what they believed was rightfully their due-even though it meant contradicting the law of the land (and God)-these five brave women were responsible for not only helping themselves but also for helping others. They made history for future generations who might find themselves in a position to lobby for their rightful inheritance.

In Zelophehad's daughters' example, we see the Jewish principle of tikkun olam in action. According to Rabbi Arthur Green, tikkun olam "refers to the betterment of the world, including the relief of human suffering, the achievement of peace and mutual respect among peoples, and the protection of the planet itself from destruction." (Green, A. (1999), These Are The Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life)

May we teach our children to have the courage to make things right and to fight for making the world a just and fair place in which to live.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. What is a tikkun olam project which you and your child(ren) can do together?
  2. Speaking up for oneself can sometimes be intimidating. Can you think of a situation in which you spokeup for yourself, despite it being awkward or uncomfortable?
  3. Is there a cause you feel strongly enough about that you would be willing to participate in a march, rally or demonstration?

Questions for Children:

  1. Can you name one thing you did today in your house to help make the world a better place? Can you name one thing you did today in your classroom to help make the world a better place?
  2. Can you think of a time when you felt that something was not fair? What did you do about it?
  3. Can you think of some rules in your house that are different from the rules in a friend's house?
Reference Materials

Pages 1074-1086 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: