by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – February 12, 2010
Towards the end of the Torah portion of Mishpatim, G-d informs the people of Israel who have escaped a torturous slavery in Egypt, are trekking through a desolate desert and are eagerly awaiting a place to settle down in: “I shall send My fear before you and I shall confound the entire people among whom you shall come … I shall send the hornet-swarm before you and it will drive away the Hivvite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you … I shall deliver the inhabitants of the Land into your hands and you shall drive them away from before you” (Sh’mot 23:27-31).
As a result of recent excavations, we have been made aware of a once extant barbaric people of ancient times. This people populated a number of scattered and un-federated city-states that were dominated by a primitive culture and religion inferior even to those of their ancient neighbors. They were steeped in and filled the land with vice, depravity, violence and bloodshed, even engaging in ritual murder of their own parents, brothers and sisters. Their deities were pictured as bloodthirsty and warlike and their favorite goddess was Anath, patroness of sex and war, who reveled in the bloodied bodies of the males locked into her temple. And their moral depravity went hand in hand with military combat which served to satisfy their ravenous appetite for the flow of human blood.
Such a people were the ancient Canaanites, a corrupt and murderous people bent on moral and physical self-destruction as well as the destruction of all those around them. It was such a people, dangerous to all of human society, whom G-d recognized to be in a need of extinction in order to save the rest of society from such a fate. Being, then, that the Canaanites needed to be removed, their land would be available for other more deserving inhabitants.
About 3000 years ago, the Egyptian people subjected their one-time Israelite guests to slavery. Fortunately, an individual was born by the name of Moses who, at the guidance of G-d, was able to compel the Egyptians to “let my people go” (Sh’mot 5:1), and, in 1312 BCE, to lead a mass exodus of the children of Israel from among their Egyptian slave-masters. However, no other people were willing to show an ounce of compassion for a tired and bedraggled bunch of cruelly exploited Israelites in search of a home. Moabites and Amonites refused them permission to pass through their land or even to sell them any goods or food. From the east, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were ambushed by the Amalekites; from the mountain tops, they were pounced upon by the Amorites; and at the first attempt, the people of Bashan attempted to annihilate them. The Israelites were in desperate need of independence and a land of their own. Yet, despite the atrocious treatment the people of Israel received at the hands of their Middle Eastern neighbors, the children of Israel were restricted by G-d from embarking upon a campaign of indiscriminate war against all in their path and the possession of other peoples’ lands, even against such nations as Egypt, Amon and Moab, who dealt with the Israelites in a much less than fair manner. Rather, G-d informs the Israelites, “See, I have set before you the land; come and possess the land which the L-rd swore unto your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them and to their seed after them” (Devarim 1:8). Only one land was permitted to be taken by the Israelites – that land which was once settled by their forefathers and populated at the time by the barbaric, bloodthirsty and thoroughly corrupt Canaanites.
As a result of the conquest by the bedraggled refugees over the Land of Israel from the bloodied hands of the Canaanites, a mortal danger to all of humanity was eliminated and a relatively tiny mass of tired and exploited individuals were given a place to rest their weary bones. As a result of the Israelites’ conquest of the Land of Israel, a section of land barely 8000 square miles reverted from a land spewing blood and corruption within its borders and throughout its surroundings to a center of G-d’s word which over the years has extracted millions from the claws of pagan worship in its own vicinity and throughout millions of square miles over the face of the earth.