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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5778

Parashat Hashavua: The Canaanites Were Then in the Land

Harav Yosef Carmel

Hashem’s command to Avraham with which our parasha begins is listed as one of the ten tests that Avraham was asked to pass (Avot 5:3), and some say that it even included two tests (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 33). We will try to explain the difficulty of the task, which made it so highly regarded.

The first sub-section of the parasha ends as follows: “Avram passed through the Land to the place of Shechem, to Elon Moreh, and the Canaanites were then in the Land” (Bereishit 12:6). Why is it significant that the Cannanites were in the Land at this time, and why does the Torah stress the word “then”?

Rashi was undoubtedly bothered by these questions when he explained that the Canaanites had been capturing the Land from the descendants of Shem, to whom the Land was originally slated. When Hashem gave the Land to Avraham, a descendant of Shem, He was in that way returning it to its proper owners. This is difficult, though, as Rashi himself indicates elsewhere that both the Land of Israel and Egypt were slated for the sons of Cham (Canaan and Mitzrayim). Nimrod, another descendant of Cham, left Egypt and conquered the land from there until Assyria, and the bridge between these two places is Eretz Yisrael.

Let us remember that Nimrod was the major enemy of Avraham, highlighted of course by Nimrod’s throwing Avraham into the furnace. He controlled all of the Middle East, with the Canaanites, his cousins, being those who lived in Eretz Yisrael, then called the Land of Canaan. Of all places, Hashem chose to send Avraham there, and there he called out in the name of Hashem. He offered sacrifices, set up centers of monotheism in Beit El and in Elon Moreh, and preached a life based on the sanctity of the family, justice, and charity.

These were all values that were antithetical to those of Cham and his son Canaan. They were the ones who uncovered their grand/father Noach, which may have included sodomy or castration. In any case, their activities were what was described at Noach’s times as “destroyed all flesh in the land” and forsook the covenant with Hashem. To counter this, Hashem made a new covenant with Avraham, including one in which he gave the Land to Avraham and commanded him in brit mila, which puts a stress on the purity of family life. The burden that Hashem put on Avraham, to elevate himself and those around him specifically in the land where the Canaanites live, was a huge challenge and test. That is why “then,” the height of the Canaanite occupation, was the hardest time for Avraham to succeed.

Let us pray that we will merit establishing in Eretz Yisrael a society based on a life of purity and sanctity, based on principles of kindness and justice. This is the legacy we inherited from Avraham. May we succeed in being a light unto the nations and that they will recognize this.


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