Tzelafchad, according to one opinion, was the mekoshesh, or “wood gatherer,” who was executed for violating Shabbos. According to the Targum Yonasan (and a Midrash quoted by Tosfos in Bava Basra 119b), his act was high-minded, intended to ensure that others would recognize the sanctity of the day.
Thus his sin, although a capital crime, was a selfless one.
If so, might his act have been the merit that resulted in his daughters earning not only a portion of the Holy Land but two prominent mentions in the Torah (our parsha and parshas Mas’ei)?
It is intriguing that Rabi Yochanan, in Shabbos 118a, says that “One who ‘delights’ the Shabbos” is afforded “a boundless portion.”
The stance of Rabi Yehudah in Gittin 8a is that any place that is directly west of Eretz Yisrael is considered part of Eretz Yisrael. Though that approach is not the one accepted as halacha, and meforshim understand it in different ways, its simplest meaning would seem to imply that Eretz Yisrael stretches west around the world.
The portion in Eretz Yisrael proper of Menashe, the shevet to which Tzelafchad belonged, includes much of the western coast of Eretz Yisrael.
Might Tzelafchad’s daughters’ land-portion have been on the actual coast itself? And, if so, might the women (at least according to Rabi Yehudah) have received “a boundless portion” of the Land because of the merit of their father’s selfless act on behalf of Shabbos?
© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran