CLERGY CORNER: Accepting a bribe

Posted on 18 August 2016 by LeslieM

A government official was arrested for accepting a bribe from a contractor. A friend who went to visit him in the lock-up asked, “How are you going to get out of this mess?”

The official replied calmly, “I got into trouble for accepting a bribe; I will get out of it by giving it.”

Five daughters petition

It is a puzzling story—the tale of the five daughters of Tzelafchad, recorded in the portion of Pinchas.

Tzelafchad was a Jewish man, of the generation born in Egyptian slavery, liberated by the Exodus, and granted the Land of Canaan as Israel’s heritage. Although that generation did not merit to take possession of the land themselves, when their children crossed the Jordan River to conquer it, they did so as their fathers’ heirs. Each family received its share in the land in accordance with its apportionment among the 600,000 members of the generation of the Exodus.

Tzelafchad had five daughters but no sons. The laws of inheritance as they were initially given in the Torah, which recognized only male heirs, in which sons inherit from their fathers and they are responsible to fully support the widow and daughters as long as they do not marry. In this case, there were no sons to inherit Tzelafchad’s portion in the Land. The daughters refused to reconcile themselves to this situation, and approached Moses with the petition.

They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the Kohen and before the chieftains and the entire congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, saying, “Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against G-d in Korah’s assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons.”

Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers.”

So Moses brought their case before G-d.

God spoke to Moses, saying: “The daughters of Tzelafchad have a just claim. Give them a hereditary portion of land alongside their father’s brothers. Let their father’s hereditary property thus pass over to them.”

The correct decision for this question requires no more than simple logic. What else should be done with the piece of land belonging to Tzelafchad? Should it be transferred to someone who is not related to him? It would not make sense to have his brothers receive it, because, as mentioned according to Torah law, orphaned daughters need to be supported by the brothers until they marry, during which time they live in their father’s estate now inherited by the brothers. In our case, when there were no brothers, and all of the women were single, where would they live? Who would support them? If they do not inherit any part of the land or their father’s possessions, they will remain homeless and destitute. That is senseless. Logic dictates that the daughters should inherit their father’s piece of land — and logic is the way we deduce the intricacies of Torah law. Why then did Moses feel it necessary to bring this seemingly obvious ruling directly to G-d and not even begin to seek an answer?

Moses’ Integrity

If we are to look at how they presented their case, they prefaced, “Our father died in the desert. He was not among the members of Korach’s party who protested against G-d, but he died because of his own sin without leaving any sons.”

This detail is the key to it all. Korach staged a ferocious rebellion against Moses. He saw Moses as his arch-enemy and attempted to rally up the entire nation against Moses. Korach claimed that Moses was a power-hungry demagogue who craved nothing but absolute control and authority. The moment Moses heard the daughters say that their father was not part of Korach’s mutiny he felt that his psyche has just become bias toward them and their father. This was a verbal bribe, subtle as it may be, and he might not be fully objective in his decision.

The Lesson

This is the level of self-awareness G-d asks of us. Don’t be perfect, but be accountable. Don’t be flawless, but be honest with yourself. Realize how subjective and bias you may be on any given issue, perhaps beyond realizing it. Thus, always retain your humility, allow yourself to be challenged, listen to another perspective, and be open to the truth that you may really be wrong.

If Moses at the peak of his life felt that no matter his standing, a small compliment from five sisters can alter his objectivity and distort his sense of truth. Certainly you and I must ask ourselves, “Maybe there is another perspective?” “Maybe my wife has a point?” “Maybe my mother-in-law is in the right?” Okay, let’s not push it… but “maybe my husband has a point?” “Maybe I need an outside opinion?”

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the Director of Chabad of the North Broward Beaches. New location coming soon. For all upcoming events, please visit

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