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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.

Horton’s 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 Horton’s encouragement, has gathered the town in the square

and they are making a racket, but it isn’t enough.

So Horton pleads with the Whoville Mayor

to search the town for any shirkers.

And there...


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 town’s darkest hour!

The time for all Whos who have blood that is red

To come to the aid of their country!" he said.

"We’ve 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

silent.

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

well

messy.

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

involving women.

Numbers 5 offers the question of how to deal with women

suspected of committing adultery.

It’s a rather unpleasant read,

and I’ll 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 master’s tool

the fairness of land distribution

is used against the master’s house

the father-son thing.

The success of this endeavor

leaves us giddy

with a belief that we can change the world,

that Jo-Jo’s 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

(male) priorities:

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 master’s tools.

I discovered that there is significant debate about the efficacy

and ethics

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.

She says,

"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 master’s tools

will never dismantle the master’s 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

nationally

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,

literally.

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 couldn’t' successfully wield the master's tools.


Audre Lorde

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.

Amen.