"And Joshua was old, advanced in days" (Joshua 13:1). The deeper meaning of this verse is illumined by Rabbi Nachman's teaching that the true elder constantly advances in holiness and wisdom with every single day and every hour and minute.

In terms of the literal chronology of our text, God's command to Joshua to divide the land even though it was not yet fully subdued came after seven years of conquest following the Children of Israel's entry. This is learned out from today's text Chapter 14 v 10 where Calev ben Yefuneh - Joshua's fellow spy among the twelve sent by Moses from the wilderness at the start of what became 40 years of wandering - says, "God has given me life this FORTY-FIVE years" (i.e. it was 45 years since God's promise to give Calev the land he trod upon in his visit to Israel, since he was the only faithful spy out of the twelve besides Joshua). Rashi on this verse says that it is from here that we learn that the conquest took seven years, because Moses sent the spies in the second year in the wilderness, and the remaining 38 years of wandering with another seven for the conquest make a total of 45.

According to the dating system of the rabbinic historical Midrash SEDER OLAM ("Order of the World") followed in this series (which puts the Destruction of the Second Temple in the year 3828 = 68 of the Common Era), the Exodus from Egypt took place in 2448 (1312 B.C.E.), with the death of Moses and Joshua's subsequent entry into the Land in 2488 (1272 B.C.E.).

Joshua had been 44 at the time of the sending of the spies, and was 82 when he entered the Land. Thereafter he ruled over Israel for 28 years until his death at the age of 110, and was thus 89 at the time of the commencement of the division of the Land.


Today's text and the texts of the coming days are filled with the names of various peoples and tribes and very many place-names. These are chapters filled with the love of God's holy Promised Land and its every mountain, hill, plain and river. Many profound secrets are woven into these subtle texts. By way of introduction to the coming chapters of the book of Joshua, let us establish some basic principles relating to the Land God has given to Israel .

In the "Covenant between the Parts" God promised Abraham "this Land from the river of Egypt until the great river, the River Euphrates. The Keinite, the Kenizzite and the Kadmoni. And the Hitite, the Perrizite and the Refa'im. And the Emorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite". (Genesis 15:18-20). This is the "Promised Land".

As noted by Rashi (ad loc.), ten peoples are listed here - whereas in the time of the conquest of Joshua, the Israelites were commanded only to take possession of the lands of the seven Canaanite nations. The three other peoples listed in God's promise to Abraham, the Keinite, Kenizzite and Kadmoni, refer to Edom , Moab and Ammon, which are destined to come under the rule of Israel in time to come.

The geographical definition of the Holy Land promised to Abraham is "from the river to the river" - the entire Mediterranean arm of the "Fertile Crescent" from the western point of the Euphrates all the way to the eastern arm of the Nile delta (this is the usual interpretation of "the River of Egypt" though some identify it with with Wadi Arish).

A similar definition of the Promised Land is in God's Covenant with Israel at Sinai, where the territory is "from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines (Mediterranean) and from the wilderness until the River ( Euphrates )" (Exodus 23:31).

King David conquered most of this area, and under King Solomon the entire area was indeed under the sway of Israel: "And Solomon was the ruler over all the principalities from the River (Euphrates) to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt" (Kings 1, 5:1-5). After Solomon, the Israelite influence waned but in the later history of the kingdom of Israel , King Jeraboam ben Joash restored most of the lands over which Solomon had held sway. Thereafter, however, the Israelite grip on the land was lost when first the Ten Tribes went into exile and subsequently Judah .

The period from the conquest of the Land by Joshua until the destruction of the First Temple in 3338 (422 B.C.E.) is one of 850 years, in which the people of Israel practiced the laws and customs of their fathers with varying levels of fidelity, following the agricultural and other laws of the Torah. After Ezra's return from exile in Babylon, with the rebuilding of the Second Temple, there followed another period of more than 700 years of continuous Jewish residence in the Land of Israel until several centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Knowledge of the exact boundaries and divisions of the Land is important in order to know how the various agricultural laws of the Torah apply in different regions. (For example, in Temple times the Omer barley offering could not be brought from east of the Jordan ; certain details of the laws of tithing of produce are different in Ammon and Moab from Israel west of the Jordan , etc.)


Most of Chapter 13 of our text today deals not with the allocation of the lands of the Seven Canaanite nations but with the territories EAST of the River Jordan which had been taken in the time of Moses and given by him to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashh, as related in the Torah in the later chapters of Numbers (chs 21 ff) and again in the early chapters of Deuteronomy. The conquest and division of these territories are recounted in detail in our present chapter, Joshua 13. Their topography is given in detail - from the territories to the south taken from the Emorite (Canaanite) king Sichon comprising areas of Moab and Ammon (current day Jordan) through the fertile Gil'ad (also in Jordan) up to the Bashan taken from King Og, a remnant of the (Canaanite) Refa'im (Bashan includes parts of the present day Golan heights and other parts of Syria and Jordan).

From Biblical times until after well after the destruction of the Second Temple , the Israelite population thus spread both in the " Land of Israel " WEST of the Jordan and also in the ancestral territories given to them by Moses EAST of the Jordan (MEY-EYVER LA-YARDEN). Their respective populations were in constant communication (thus Mishneh Rosh HaShanah describes how the news of the Sanctification of the New Moon was signaled by torches from mountain to mountain across vast swathes of territory until everyone knew it.)

The political geography of the Middle East since 1948 has concealed the intimate bond that exists for Israel between the east and west banks of the Jordan . Prior to 1948, Palestine was a generic term for territories that are now divided up between present day Egypt , Jordan , Syria , Lebanon and Israel . The name Palestine was given by the Romans after the destruction of Jewish sovereignty in the Land, and was originally intended as an insult to the Jews by calling their ancestral homeland by the Latinized name of their traditional national enemies, the Philistines. [The Philistines were not a clan of the Canaanites but a powerful sea-faring invader people who came in waves from earlier habitations in the Mediterranean area from the times of Abraham and thereafter.] When in 1917 Britain assumed the mandate over "Palestine" and made the "Balfour Declaration" stating that its government "viewed with favour the establishment in PALESTINE of a national home for the Jewish people", the term Palestine still referred to territories stretching from east of the Nile through present day Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

It was only in the years after 1917 that sprawling " Palestine " was successively trimmed, cut down and redefined until the State of Israel was left with territory that is only a small part of the Promised Land given by God to Abraham. It is deeply significant that the extensive areas that did not come under Israelite possession in the times of Joshua are still beyond the borders of the State of Israel.


The allocation of the Land amongst the Children of Israel in the time of Joshua was determined by the GORAL or "lottery" involving the High Priest (Elazar son of Aharon) and the "King" (Joshua student of Moses) using the Urim VeTumim - holy spirit channeled through the High Priest's breastplate inscribed with the luminescent Hebrew letters of the names of the Tribes, which would flash one after another to reveal divine messages.

The main narrative of Chapter 14 concerns the request of Calev to receive the territory where he alone had trod as a Spy 45 years earlier. Numbers 13:21 hints through the use of the Hebrew singular "and HE came to Hebron" that Calev alone out of the spies had the courage to risk the perilous journey to Hebron, the burial place of Adam and the three Patriarchs, in order to pray (see Rashi ad loc.).

Here at the very beginning of the chapters dealing with the allocation of the Land of Israel among the tribes, the prominent positioning of Calev's request to receive Mount Hebron as the very heart of the royal tribe of Judah 's portion shows the supreme importance of Hebron to Israel and the Jewish people. King David ( Judah ) reigned in Hebron for seven years before he reigned in Jerusalem - he had to bind himself to the Three Fathers in Hebron before taking his position as the "fourth leg of the Throne". Joshua Chapter 14 shows the antiquity of Judah 's bond with Hebron , which will never be broken.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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