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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Lech Lecha (5762)

Bible criticism has been accepted in academic circles for over a hundred years. It is considered by academic scholars to have amassed a considerable amount of textual evidence indicating that the Torah was not divinely given. The following Rashi -comment shows his uncanny sensitivity to problems that would be discussed only centuries after his time.

The Torah describes Abrams travels through the land of Canaan as he fulfills G-d's command to go the land. (12:6-9).

Genesis 12:6

"And Abram passed through the Land until the place of Shechem, unto the Plain of Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the Land."


"The Canaanites were then in the Land: RASHI: He [the Canaanite] gradually conquered Eretz Yisroel from the descendants of Shem. For it fell to the share of Shem when Noah apportioned the land to his sons. As it says (Genesis 14:18) "Malki Zedek King of Shaleim (Jerusalem)." Therefore, Hashem said to Abram 'to your descendants will I give this land.' Which means that in the future I will return it to your children who are descendants of Shem."

Rashi seems a bit verbose here, but as we have come to learn, he always uses his words sparingly. So if he takes the time to spell out a point, there is a reason for it.


At first glance it would seem that Rashi has come mainly to validate the legitimacy of Abram's claim to the land of Canaan. If the Canaanites lived in the land, that means that it was part of Cham's inheritance, as Canaan was a descendent of Cham.(Genesis 10:6).


But since Abram was a descendant of Shem, we would ask: How then does this parcel of land belong to Abram? This is one of the things that is bothering Rashi. Although this difficulty is not apparent from the text itself, it a difficulty that Rashi wants to answer.

How does his comment right matters?

Your Answer:


An answer: Rashi explains that although Canaan was "then in the Land' it wasn't rightfully theirs, because they had conquered the territory from the descendants of Shem. So the rightful owners are the descendants of Shem, and Abram is one of them.

But Rashi also deals with a more serious difficulty in the text. Can you see it?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The word "then" is disturbing. What does "then" mean here? "Then" but not now? How could that be the meaning? Moses wrote the Torah several hundred years after Abram's time, but the Canaanites were still in the land when Moses was living. Joshua, his successor, had to battle them when he entered the land after Moses' death. So why would the Torah says "the Canaanites were THEN in the land."?

The question is a serious one, because Bible critics, who claim that the Torah was not divinely given at Sinai or even during Moses' lifetime, say that this phrase indicates that the Torah was really written many, many years after Moses' death, when in fact, the Canaanites no longer lived in the Land of Israel. Their point seems to be well taken. Because if Moses did write the Torah why did he make a point of saying "the Canaanites where then in the land"? since they were also in the land when Moses wrote these verses.


An Answer: Rashi reminds us of a simple point. The word "then" may imply one of two possible meanings. "Then" but not "now." Or it can mean (and this is Rashi's contribution) "Then" but not before then. Rashi tells us that the Canaanites were in the land "then" but not before then, because up until then it had been in Shem's possession and Canaan only later began gradually taking possession of the land. So Canaan was not there before, they were only there "then" when Abram traveled the country.

This is a brilliant interpretation. It shows us that the highly acclaimed, critical scholars known as the secular Bible critics, still have much to learn from Rashi.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the "Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Torah Commentaries." Queries can be sent to msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devarim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and The Ba'alei Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further

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