This week's dvar Torah is based on an essay written by Rabbi Avital Hochstein whose thoughts on this week's parsha are far more powerful than mine could be.
The book of Bamidbar, has been, for the most part, an exposition of freedom and liberty. It has examined it from an economic, egalitarian and humanitarian point of view. This week's parsha we are presented by laws regarding the influence that both a father and husband has over a wife/daughter when she vows to do something.
Rabbi Hochstein presents one of her readings:
As a modern person reading between the lines, I hear panicked voices here, voices we have heard in modern times, too, when the subject of equal status for women arises. What will become of our inheritance? The men of Menashe ask, and their ancient question resonates with contemporary questions that emerge regularly in our public sphere. Who will manage the home now? Who will care for the children? Indeed, gender equality demands changes not only in women's tasks and behaviors, but in the entire social order. It forces us to think in new ways about the entire division of labor. We can understand the men of Menashe's appeal to Moshe this way as well. In light of the daughters of Tzelophehad's precedent and the spirit of equality it propagates, the men of Menashe see that this is no mere private or one-time matter, nor a matter that relates only to women. A change in the status of the daughters of Tzelophehad, and in its wake perhaps of every woman who in the future finds herself in a similar circumstance, effects a broader and deeper change, one that touches every individual person in the society.
Rabbi Hochstein is nuanced in her apt observation that social change causes tectonic shifts in the social fibre of the society down to its basic building blocks. It is important that we remember how far the ripples of change travel. It is our job as madrichim to facilitate smooth and educated transitions (and perhaps even rejections ) of social change. After all it is our teachers who shape the world of today.