The daughters of Tzlafchad came to Moshe and said:
לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן תְּנָה לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ – Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers. (27:4)
Rashi explains that this was not an emotional request, rather, a halachic one. אנו במקום בן עומדות, ואם אין הנקבות חשובות זרע, תתיבם אמנו ליבם – We stand in the place a son ought to be, if we do not inherit our father, then let our mother perform yibum – levirate marriage.
A woman does not perform yibum if she has children from her deceased husband – as the children carry on the name of their father. The daughters of Tzlafchad made the association between yibum and inheritance – if they were זרע, progeny enough for yibum, then they ought to inherit, and if they weren’t to inherit, then their mother ought to perform yibum.
Rashi further points out that הא אם היה לו בן לא היו תובעות כלום. מגיד שחכמניות היו – If there had been a brother, they would not have made a claim (and left the inheritance to him). This displayed their intelligence.
What exactly is the intelligence they displayed?
R’ Yehoshua Hartman explains that they demonstrated their understanding of the function of inheritance. The conventional wisdom is that when the owner dies, his assets are passed on. It is a default process – assets cannot lie unclaimed.
The genuine, Torah, understanding of inheritance is that whatever Hashem blesses someone with becomes a part of who they are. A person’s name takes root in his house – that’s what ownership really is. That is not to say that this goes to the extent of society today where people are defined by how much money they have at the bank. But property does have a certain relationship with the owner, a sort of extension.
When the person dies, the re-allocation of his assets is only to perpetuate the name of the deceased, which his property bears the name of. The people who are the continuation of his legacy will, inherit, which is why children usually inherit, as they are the continuation of their father’s legacy.
The daughters said if we weren’t continuations of their father’s lineage regarding inheritance, then they ought not to be for yibum. They understood what the function of both is to continue the lineage of their father.
The association was so correct, that Hashem told Moshe that they were right, teaching a previously unknown halacha.