The Daughters of Z
Based upon Number 26
This past week children around the country celebrated the 100th Birthday of beloved author Dr. Seuss.
One of Seuss classics is a precious tale of when
Horton the Elephant discovers
a distressed community living on a dust speak.
The "whos" are so tiny as to be unseen and large unheard.
Hortons care for them lands him the scorn of his community,
and those around Horton attempt to destroy the dustspeck.
The only thing that can save Whoville in their hour of crisis
is a communal voice
loud enough for the non-believers to take notice.
The mayor of Whoville, with Hortons encouragement, has gathered the town in the square
and they are making a racket, but it isnt enough.
So Horton pleads with the Whoville Mayor
to search the town for any shirkers.
In the Fairfax Apartments (Apartment 12-J)
A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo
Was standing, just standing, and bouncing a Yo-Yo!
Not making a sound! Not a yipp! Not a chirp!
And the Mayor rushed inside and he grabbed the young twerp!
And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.
"This" cried the Mayor, "is your towns darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!" he said.
"Weve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!"
Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they reached to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, "YOPP!"
And that Yopp...
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on the clover
Their voices were heard....
As read the story fromNumbers 27
about Milcah and her sisters
the "Daughters of Z"
I am reminded of the importance of Jo-Jo
and the reality that we need every yopp
to make it over the top.
The Daughters of Z are very brave women
who find voice
in a culture where women were expected to remain
They are coming into the long awaited promised land
and it will be divided by tribes,
by the men in each tribe.
But the sisters have no men
for their father has died in the wilderness
and they have no brothers.
As the land is divided among the men;
where were will they go?
They plead their case with Moses
who agrees that there is a problem
and Moses in turn
takes the case to God.
God sides with the women
and the daughters of Z win property rights
Women can (at least in the absence of brothers) inherit land.
Uppity women unite! Every yopp counts!
Well, kind of.
The story in context however is a bit more
The story we read today
is the beginning of the second chapter in Numbers.
The book opened
with the story of the first generation in the wilderness
and in this first story their is also a legal challenge
Numbers 5 offers the question of how to deal with women
suspected of committing adultery.
Its a rather unpleasant read,
and Ill leave that to your discretion.
Suffice it to say that the women do not fare well
in the first generation of wilderness dwellers.
But in Numbers 27,
a new generation is beginning
and it appears that the women may have a better life.
Clearly as they approach Moses for fair treatment
this is a new day.
God rules on behalf of the women.
Or so we would think.
But in Numbers 36 the story continues.
The women are older now
and ready to marry,
to marry outside their tribe.
The men return to Moses and plead.
After all, the men reason,
the case was never about the women anyway,
it was about property division among the tribes.
If the land-holding women marry outside the tribe,
the land will leave the tribe.
Moses considers the case
and speaking for God
tells the women "no".
As the story begins in Numbers 27, the daughters of Z are
"using the master's tools to dismantle the master's house".
The masters tool
the fairness of land distribution
is used against the masters house
the father-son thing.
The success of this endeavor
leaves us giddy
with a belief that we can change the world,
that Jo-Jos yopp, and ours, makes a difference.
But by the time I get to Numbers 36,
especially in light of Numbers 5!,
I am less enthusiastic.
We discover that the story,
from Moses perspective, anyway,
was never about the women
but rather with a clash of two competing
the patrilineal system
and the fair distribution of land among the tribes.
The women's right to self-determination
was doomed from the start.
At the point of hopelessness
I began to research the quote about the masters tools.
I discovered that there is significant debate about the efficacy
of using the masters tools.
Audre Lorde was a black feminist lesbian poet,
a fighter of segregation, apartheid, and cancer.
She says the master's tools won't work.
"The master's tools will never dismantle the masters' house".
She says you can't fight racism with racism
or patriarchy with patriarchy.
In her book "Sister Outsider",
Lorde is expressing moral outrage and saying:
For the masters tools
will never dismantle the masters house.
They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
As I ponder the Daughters of Z
of their courage and their fleeting success
I find I am troubled with the master's tools.
I was in Tekonsha when we
decided to "end welfare as we know it".
A small rural town with a lot of poverty.
Chris and Stevie's mother was one of the "welfare moms" whose lives we wanted to change.
She had five kids with various husbands,
one diapers and one high school.
She had been on welfare probably since the first child was born.
And she didn't wait to be booted from the system
she saw the "end of welfare" coming
and used the master's tools.
She finished her education.
She applied for a job and found one.
She used childcare credits and whatever else was then still available.
In 1994 there still appeared to be some working tools.
She got a job and for several weeks believed
that she had used the master's tools to dismantle her life as welfare.
And she was happy.
But one of the babies got really sick
and she was late to work after taking the baby to the doctor
and entry level welfare-to-work jobs have no paid vacation
and no sick leave
and no tolerance for late employees.
She was fired.
And fell behind in the rent.
But she got another job within the month.
She was an intelligent woman determined to make it.
Then Stevie got bit by a dog.
Another lost day, lost job, week without work.
She fell behind in the utilities.
Finally a factory job
a boyfriend with another factory job
life was looking up.
Until the day the car broke down.
By the end of six months,
they were six months behind in bills of every kind
and left town in the middle of the night,
This woman who had lived debt free
and a pittance of an welfare stipend
with a reasonably high intelligence
and a huge motivation
even she couldnt' successfully wield the master's tools.
in her lament of the inefficacy of the master's tools
offers a modest proposal for finding tools.
Listen to the people who need to use them.
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso tells the story of the Daughters of Z
in her book
"And God Remembered".
Of the back stepping in Numbers 36, she laments:
But this time no one listened to the sisters objection
and God was sad...
But God remembered.
May we remember.
And may our remembering encourage us to find one more yopp.