The book of Joshua recounts the conquest of the Land in six not particularly lengthy chapters (6-11), yet at the end of the account it says "Joshua made war with all these kings for MANY DAYS" (ch 11 v 18). Thus we see that our text presents only the highlights and main contours of what was in fact a lengthy process: the NaCh is in essence God's moral teaching, not a detailed military history.

Nevertheless, the strategy of the conquest is clear. It began with Jericho , which our sages call the "lock" of Eretz Israel . Jericho is the only good gateway between the south west of the Land of Israel and the territories east of the Jordan , which had been conquered in the days of Moses and had been given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasheh. The conquest of Jericho thus ensured the link between the Israelite populations on both sides of the Jordan as well as cutting off the Canaanite nations from possible help from elements east of the Jordan hostile to the Israelites.

We may understand the significance of the conquest of Ai (ch 7-8) and the subjugation of Givon (chs 9-10), both in the hills of Shomron north of Jerusalem, when we take into account that in the times of Joshua much of the center of the Land was covered by extensive forests (see Joshua ch 17 vv 14-18). The conquest of these two cities thus brought the entire central region of the country, which was relatively uninhabited, under Israelite control. (Shechem, the largest city in the area, was inhabited by Hivites, and evidently submitted to Israelite dominion at the same time as their clansmen the Hivite Giveonites.) Israelite control of the center of the country cut off the Canaanite city states of the north (Hatzor etc.) from those of the south, and they were thus unable to unite to fight all together against the Israelites.

After the defeat of the five Emorite kings in the south, as described in the previous chapter (10 vv 1-11) Joshua did not immediately destroy their cities but instead turned against Makedah, Livnah, Lachish and Eglon (ibid 28-35), these being the key cities guarding the approach to the mountains of Judea dominating the south of the country. The mountain region was thus cut off from the coastal plain, thereby isolating Mount Hevron from all possible assistance from the west, north and south. Joshua then went up to conquer Mount Hevron and the rest of the southern regions of the country, which meant that the entire south and center of the Land were now under Israelite control.

The hardest part of the conquest was that of the north, as described in our present text, Chapter 11, because the city-state of Hatzor, under King Yavin, was the most powerful influence in the region, possessing great wealth as well as "a very great number of horses and chariots" (11, 4), of which the Israelites had none.

Kabbalistically, we must look at the Land of Israel not through the spectacles of modern geography, where every map is aligned along the north-south axis. Instead, we must bear in mind that, Kabbalistically, the all important axis is the center column, corresponding to the daily journey of the sun from east (Tiferet) to west (Malchus). When you face east, the south is to your right, corresponding to Chessed, Kindness, while the north is to your left, corresponding to Gevurah, Strength. South and north are thus the two arms. The Israelites entered the Land from the east (Tiferet) and first conquered the center (Ai, Giveon), then the south (Chessed) and then the north (Gevurah). Thus the king of Hatzor, the major power of the north, was Yavin,(Heb. = "he will understand"), alluding to the left column root sefirah of Binah.

God commanded Joshua to break the ankles of all their enemies' horses and burn all their chariots (v 6) even though the prohibition of BAL TASHCHIS ("do not destroy" Deut. 20:19) forbids wanton destruction. RaDaK (v 9) explains that the Canaanites had put their trust in the power of their horses and chariots, and God did not want the Israelites to plunder them in order to ensure that they would not also come to put their faith in military might. It was not necessary to kill the horses. All that was needed was to cut their hooves so that they would not be of any use in battle.


As we have seen, our text gives a brief account of what was in fact a long process of conquest and subjugation. Joshua was criticized for taking "many days" to conquer all the kings of Canaan . God had promised him that "as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you" (ch 1 v 5), which indicates that Joshua should have lived to the age of 120 like Moses. However, the Midrash tells us that Joshua feared he would be taken from the world as soon as he completed the conquest, and was therefore inclined to tarry. God said to him: "Moses your teacher did not act like that when I told him to exact vengeance from the Midianites and then die (Numbers 31:1) - he made war on them immediately. Since you think this way, I shall SUBTRACT from your years (Joshua - like his ancestor Joseph - died at the age of 110.) 'Many are the thoughts in a man's heart but it is God's counsel that will stand'" (Bamidbar Rabbah 22:7). Sometimes the stratagems we devise to stave off perceived dangers actually bring those very dangers nearer.


The Canaanites themselves caused their own destruction by refusing to submit to the Israelite conditions for remaining in the Land - giving up their idolatry. As v 20 states, their recalcitrance was sent by heaven. RaDaK explains that God hardened their hearts similarly to the way He hardened the heart of Pharaoh, in order to punish them for their sins, and secondly, in order to enable the Israelites to destroy them as God had commanded Moses so that they would not cause the Israelites to sin.

The recalcitrance of the Canaanites has been mirrored in modern times by that of the Arabs who have systematically resisted the return of the people of Israel to resettle their ancestral lands. Many Jews find it impossible to understand the unrelenting opposition of the Arabs to Jewish settlement of the Land - and indeed, it is impossible to understand it in rational terms. It might appear that the Arabs would have a lot to gain from peaceful cooperation with a people who have time and time again manifested their God-given blessing of being able to turn a tiny strip of land in the dry, backward Middle East into a flourishing, prosperous jewel of a country. Those Arabs who agree to help the people of Israel in our national mission as laid down in God's road map in the Bible will indeed have a place and a role in the future order as foretold by the prophets. But those who refuse will one day discover that their trust in bombs, missiles and machine guns is entirely misplaced.


"This means that the Canaanites did not rise up again and gather to make war against the Israelites because they saw they had been defeated in all the wars. Likewise the Israelites remained in the territories they had conquered but did not conquer more land. When Joshua was old, God told him to urge on Israel to conquer the remaining territories and He ordered him to divide up the Land in his life time. Joshua began with the tribes of Judah and Joseph, because he was told prophetically that they were the heads of Israel and would stand on the boundaries of Israel , Judah to the south [Chessed] and Ephraim to the north [Gevurah], with the other seven tribes between them. Once the territories were allotted to each tribe by the lottery, they considered the whole land to have been conquered as all the boundaries were in their hands and any remaining Canaanites were locked in between. (RaDaK on v 23).



In Hebrew the number 31 is written with the letters Lamed (=30) and Aleph (=1). The two possible permutations of these two letters make up two Hebrew words. The first is EL (literally, "power" but also "God" - as such it is pronounced KEL except in prayer since this is one of the seven names of God that may not be erased). The second is LO (= "no"). The 31 kings all said "No" to Israel , and paid for their intransigence with their very lives in order to show that "it is God's counsel that will stand".

When the Five Books of Moses are written on a parchment scroll for the public reading of the Torah in the Synagogue, the scribe must observe detailed rules and conventions in writing the text. In the same way, there are specific rules governing the writing of the Prophets and Holy Writings on a parchment scroll (some communities read the weekly Haftara and the Megillot from valid scrolls). Yerushalmi Megillah ch 4 tells us that in the parchment scroll of Joshua, the names of the 31 kings of Canaan must be written similarly to way the names of the 10 Sons of Haman hanged on the tree are written in Megillas Esther. The 31 kings are written each on a separate line with the name at the beginning of the line and the repeated word "ONE" (vv. 9-23) at the end. Perhaps the repetition of the word ONE comes to emphasize that although Israel were faced with a multiplicity of enemies, they were all sent by the One God who ultimately destroyed them all.

With the completion of the summary of the conquest of the Land in Chapter 12, we are ready for the account of its allocation by lottery to the Tribes of Israel as narrated in the coming chapters.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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