Mattos/Massei – Fair Compromise

The entire 8th chapter of Bava Basra is dedicated to the Jewish Laws of inheritance. The gemara learns from pesukim in the Torah that a man’s inheritance goes to his sons, and it is their duty to care for their unmarried sisters and mother. However, in the Torah portion of Pinchas the daughters of Tzelophchod came to Moshe and requested that they receive their father’s inheritance, as he didn’t have any sons. Moshe asked Hashem what to do and Hashem said they could indeed inherit their father’s land, on condition that they marry into their father’s tribe of Menashe.

At the end of this week’s double Torah portion of Mattos and Massei, which is the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar, it discusses how they followed through with Hashem’s command, “As Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tzelophchod do. Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milca, and Noa, the daughters of Tzelophchod, became wives to sons of their uncles. To cousins from the families of the children of Menashe, son of Yosef, did they become wives, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father” (Bamidbar 36:10-12).
 The Ralbag learns a very practical lesson from this about compromise and how to deal with exceptions to the rule. “When there is a need to take away something from someone who was entitled to it and give it to someone else, one should do it in a fashion that anything that can be done in the most honest way, should still be done in a way where you can give back the loss, so that it won’t be taken away forever, but in a fashion that there is no damage to the person who is currently getting it. For example, because they would have to take away the inheritance of Tzelophchod which was included in his father, Chefer’s portion, they did it in a way where they would not lose the portion of inheritance forever, while being sure not to hurt the daughters of Tzelophchod, by marrying them off to the sons of their uncles. Behold the Torah wanted to have them married to their cousins, since that won’t hurt them at all.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag is teaching us that there are valid times when there must be exceptions to the rule, and that compromises must be made in order to ensure all sides are as minimally hurt as possible. Either just temporary results which are different from the norm, or minimal change thaen what could have resulted. However, the question is where to draw that balance of compromise?

For example, one can ask why was it right to limit the daughters of Tzelophchod to only be allowed to marry their cousins? Why couldn’t they have the choice to marry whomever they want? What was wrong with the right to choose, opportunity, the chance to be and do whatever one feels like doing? Why should they be limited and controlled? Why is that fair;, isn’t a lack of autonomy damaging to them? Didn’t the Ralbag say that compromises could be made but not at the expense of hurting the daughters of Tzelophchod?

We see from here that a lack of entitlements, being limited in choices, isn’t considered damaging. One cannot always expect and demand the right to have all possibilities on the table, because the consequences of that could affect other parties.Therefore, it is granted that one might be limited in choice when they are trying to get something when it’s at the expense of someone else.One has to be ready to live with compromise and not feel slighted when being limited when trying to achieve desired results, as there are many factors and other peoples needs that have to be taken into account.

In order for the daughters of Tzelophchod to be allowed to gain a portion of land in Israel that belonged to their father,against the traditional laws of inheritance, which clearly was the right thing, this however could not come at the expense of loss of property rights to the entire tribe of Menashe. Which is why they were prescribed on who they were allowed to marry.We see from here that a lack of entitlement and opportunity isn’t considered a damage.

The bottom line is that people can’t feel hurt just because they cannot always get their way and do whatever they want once they are given room in negotiating a compromise or amending a law. As Todd Miller a’h used to say, you know you have reached a fair compromise when both parties leave unhappy.

(It’s important to note that the daughters getting inheritance when there are no sons was destined to be part of the laws of inheritance, but Hashem orchestrated that this specific area of the law will be revealed at this point out of the merit of the righteous daughters of Tzelophchod.)