This week’s parasha includes the detailed borders of ארץ ישראל:
Why does the Torah need to specify these details? Rashi says there is a religious reason:
But it’s not so simple:
Simply being within the specified borders does not give the land קדושה; it requires כיבוש by all of כלל ישראל as well. That is why Joshua had to send the people out after they had nominally conquered the land:
The story with David is interesting:
We’ve looked at David’s foreign conquests in the Tanach class:
Why was that so problematic? The source for conquering the land outside the specified borders of ארץ ישראל comes from ספר דברים:
The Sifrei reads these psukim as two separate parts: הוריש ה׳ את כל הגוים האלה and only then כל המקום אשר תדרך כף רגלכם בו לכם יהיה:
So what did David do wrong? The last stronghold of the Canaanites was the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, and he did conquer it:
There are many opinions about the meaning of העורים והפסחים, but the פשט would seem to be like Rashi and the Targum, that this an editorial euphemism for עבודה זרה:
As we discussed in the Tanach class, David took Jerusalem without a battle. The Jebusites remained. The Sifrei understands עור ופסח לא יבוא אל הבית to mean that David kept the idols out of אוהל of the ארון that he built in Jerusalem, but let them keep their idols in their own homes. And that defeats the purpose of נחלת הארץ:
So there is a מצוה of כיבוש הארץ within the boundaries that ה׳ lays out in our parasha before any foreign adventures, but כיבוש הארץ has nothing to do with conquest and everything to do with eliminating עבודה זרה. It is the מצוה to create קדושת הארץ. We’ve said many times that ה׳ doesn’t create קדושה; human beings do, by taking the natural חול and elevating it for ה׳.
But why this land, with these boundaries? It goes back to what the Rambam referred to, הארץ שניתנה לאברהם:
Avraham walks the land. That is the definition of ארץ ישראל:
The boundaries of the land are the limits of where Avraham literally walked, where he made a כיבוש הארץ, spreading the idea of ethical monotheism.
But why was Avraham brought to this land in particular? Rav Yehuda Elitzur, in a 1974 article, gives a “geographic” reason:
Of all the lands of the “Fertile Crescent”, the cradle of Western civilization, the area of Israel is unique in that it isn’t on a major river:
However holy we may make other places—Aleppo, Monsey, St. Louis—whatever our degree of כיבוש in the lands we live in, ארץ ישראל is the only place to feel the שכינה, to have a real connection with הקב״ה through our connection to אברהם אבינו and בני ישראל who first entered the boundaries of ארץ ישראל.