The Ultimate Conquest

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Torah reading, Matot-Masei completes the 4th Book of the Torah, Bamidbar. This Sefer began on a high note as the Jews completed all the tasks associated with the building and transportation of the Sanctuary. At that point there was every expectation that they would embark on the journey to the Promised Land and assume independent national existence as G-d’s Chosen People.

The spirit of confidence and expectation was captured by Moshe as he passionately exhorted his father in law, Yitro, to join with the Jews on their epic journey: “We are traveling to the land of which Hashem said, ‘This I will give to you’. Come with us and we will treat you well for Hashem has promised good for Israel.”

However, the enthusiasm voiced by Moshe was in vain. The Jews did not merit to fulfill the goal of conquering the Holy Land. A series of inexplicable rebellions broke out which culminated in the catastrophe of the “Spies”. As a result Hashem decreed that the adults who had exited Egypt would die in the wilderness over a period of 40 years.

The Book of Bamidbar ends  with the Jews poised on the Eastern side of the Jordan in possession of the vast lands which had constituted the kingdoms of Sichon and Og two mighty warriors who made the mistake of attacking them. Led by Moshe the Jews fought back and with Hashem’s help emerged victorious.

In effect the  Biblical  narrative ends at this point. The last  Book of the Torah, Devarim, consists of the final teachings and moral messages of Moshe. However the Biblical story ends with the death of Moshe. The Torah does not include the account of the invasion and conquest of the land of Canaan and instead consigns it to the first Book of the section of Nach (prophets), Joshua.

But the question arises; wasn’t this supposed to be  the main theme of Bamidbar? The sedra of Shelach describes the mission of the Spies. Let’s imagine for a moment  what would have happened if  the  Spies had returned with a very positive report and would have encouraged the people to embark on the great campaign. It is perfectly  reasonable to assume that the Torah would  then have included the narrative of the successful battles for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

My question is, was the story of the capture of Canaan supposed to be included in the Five  Books  of Moshe?  Again, it seems clear that had the Spies not sinned the Torah would have described the subsequent war and victory. Of course, the Spies intimidated the people and the  conquest was  postponed for 40 years and it was conducted  under the leadership of Yehoshua. But why was that not recorded in the Torah (and was,  instead, written up in the Book of Joshua)?

In my opinion the Torah would have incorporated the narrative of the invasion and possession of Canaan if it had happened under the leadership of Moshe Rabbenu. For in that case it would have represented the highest level of Kibbush (conquest). The Rabbis say that if Moshe had led the Jews into the land he would have built the Beit Hamikdosh and it would have never been destroyed!

The conquest of Yehoshua was on an inferior level. Not all of the idolatrous natives were eliminated from the land as had been required. At a certain point the people got tired of fighting and retired to their inheritances to work the soil.  Subsequently the idolaters who remained became a source of trouble for the Jews. Thus it was not the ideal conquest that was envisioned and would have come to pass had Moshe been in charge.

Perhaps this enables us to understand why Moshe prayed so incessantly for Hashem to rescind the decree against his entry into the land. He understood how vital it was for the future wellbeing of Klal Yisrael that the foundation of the Jews in the land be established properly. He knew that he was singularly qualified to bring this about and beseeched Hashem to let him do so until Hashem finally told him, “It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me any further on this matter.”

This matter is very relevant to the contemporary state of Israel. The Zionist “conquest” of Eretz  Israel in the last century was incomplete and left the door open to many problems. At the present time an Arab-Israeli party which does not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state is a member of the governing coalition. To this day Israel is confronted by numerous enemies from  within and without.  There  are many nations who do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s presence in the land.

The return of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael and the establishment there  of an advanced democratic society ranks as one of the greatest miracles in Jewish and human history. But it must be seen that the ultimate goal has not yet been attained and we have a  long way to go.  

At this time of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples and for all the calamities we have suffered as a result of the exile let us determine to learn the lessons of the past. We must resolve to eschew brotherly hate and to join together to strengthen the foundations of Jewish existence, wellbeing and security in the land that Hashem said, “This I will give to them”.

Shabbat Shalom