Parsha Massei

Travelogue and Land Claim


The Torah gives a detailed list of all the stops on the way from Egypt to Canaan. Some of the names have been mentioned elsewhere in the Torah. Others have not. But there is no comprehensive record of how long they stayed at each location. It is a matter much argued about, how long they stayed and where and all attempts to find archaeological evidence has failed so far. Some consider this narrative poetic rather than historical.

Then we are given the boundaries of the land they will inhabit and divide up amongst the tribes. This does not quite accord with the promises made by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but it does cover the core of the promise, what we nowadays call the West Bank or Judea and Samaria.

We know from later books that it took a very long time for this conquest to be completed. Some three hundred years until the House of David achieved it. The promises of God all take hundreds of years to come to fulfillment, both for better and for worse. Human agency matters as much as the Divine!

Do we lay claim to the Land of Israel because of the Torah? If you see Torah as a Divine promise, you might think so. But it is subjective rather than objective. If on the other hand, it is based on historical record, of a people’s association with a land and a record of its culture associated with it, then it becomes objective.