There are many places in the Torah where we see the effect of different types of behavior. Anger inevitably leads to mistakes, kindness can have positive consequences for generations and humility keeps one from losing sight of what’s right and wrong. Parshas Pinchas contains a far more subtle but unmistakable lesson.
After counting all the Shevatim and their progeny we are introduced to the Bnos Tzlafchad. These daughters brought to Moshe Rabeinu’s attention the apparent inequity in that they were not going to have a chelek in Eretz Yisroel because their father had died in the Midbar and chalakim were only being given out according to the male lineage. (Tzlafchad had no sons) Moshe had to ask Hashem what should be done about their seemingly legitimate concern. (Pinchas 27:5) Hashem responded by instructing Moshe that the daughters should indeed inherit in their father’s place. (27:6)
This story stands in stark contrast to what happened to the Ben Ish Mitzri at the end of Parshas Emor. Boiled down to its bare essence, both the Ben Ish Mitzri and the Bnos Tzlafchad had essentially the same complaint. The Ben Ish Mitzri, who was Jewish by virtue of his mother being a Jewess, was not assigned a chelek in Eretz Yisroel because his father was a Mitzri and chalakim were being given out by fathers’ lineage. Therefore, the Ben Ish Mitzri is denied a chelek, curses Hashem and ends up receiving S’kila. (Death by Stoning) (Emor 24:14) How can practically identical complaints give rise to such different outcomes?
A careful reading of these two narratives yields an unmistakable conclusion. The Bnos Tzlafchad “approached” Moshe Rabeinu. (Pinchas 27:1) They “stood” before him, Elazar Hakohen and all the Nisiyim and presented their predicament and asked for an Eitza. (27:2,3) They received a positive response. The Ben Ish Mitzri came out and Vayinatzu BaMachane – they were fighting in the camp and then he cursed the name of Hashem. Two wholly different dispositions in bringing basically the same issue forward. The B’nos Tzlafchad talking humbly and respectfully, the Ben Ish Mitzri fighting and cursing.
The musar is unmistakable. Sometimes how we say something is even more important than what we are saying. Let us internalize this most important lesson. Even when we see an apparent mistake, injustice or offense, we must approach the topic with respect, dignity and tolerance. Often when one chooses to “fight”, the merits are lost in the noise.