Rashi (Breishis 12:6) explains this pasuk to mean that:
The Kanaanim were progressively conquering Eretz Israel from the descendents of Shem, for the land fell within the portion of Shem when Noach apportioned the land…thereupon "And He said to Avram, 'To your offspring I will give this land…' ", i.e., I am destined to restore it to your offspring as they are the descendants of Shem.
I consider this Rashi as one of the most troublesome in all of Chumash, and I am not alone. For one thing, as Ramban points out, the Chumash clearly demarcates the borders of Kanaan in Parshat Noach (Breishis 10:19) which intimates that these are legitimate borders of the sons of Kanaan approved by Noach.
Secondly, Rashi seems to contradict himself profusely as follows:
Rashi in the first pasuk in Breishis (1:1) writes that the purpose of detailing the Creation as a preamble to the Torah was so that…
…if the nations of the world will say to Israel, "You are thieves, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations!", we will respond that "The entire earth belongs to HKBH. He created it and gave it to whom he saw fit. By his will, He gave it to them and by his will He took it from them and gave it to us."
This passage seems to imply that Rashi recognizes that the land was originally in the possession of the Kanaanim no less legitimately than it was later in our possession.
Further, in Bamidbar (13:22) Rashi confirms this sentiment by quoting the gemara in Sota (34b also Kesubos 112b) which says that it does not make sense to say that Chevron was built before Tzoahn of Egypt because "Does a man (Cham ben Noach) build a town for his younger son (Kanaan) before he builds one for his older son (Mitzraim)?" This clearly implies that Cham was the original master over the land of Kanaan and it was his right to build there.
Numerous commentators make note of this contradiction and at the forefront is Rabbenu Eliyahu Mizrachi (RE"M) who makes a note of it in all three spots (Breishis 1:1 and 12:6 and Bamidbar 13:22). And he repeats the same mantra throughout: These are contradictory aggadoth and Rashi acknowledges both. In Breishis 1:1 he points out that Rashi is prone to doing this in multiple instances in Chumash.
Two things bother me. First, the minor one and that is that to say "aggados chalukos" is always a last resort solution (kind of like אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה ) that we prefer to avoid. But, secondly, and more acute, I can accept the idea of contradictory aggadoth if there actually are two contradictory aggadoth – similar to the Talmud Bavli vs. Midrash Tanchuma issue I discussed previously about Ruth. However, in this case we know that Rashi's commentary on Bamidbar 13:22 is a gemara stated in 2 places. But what he says in Bresihis 12:6 (our pasuk) that Noach granted the land to Shem – where does he get that from?
It's not a Bavli, Yerushalmi, Midrash Rabba, Tanchuma, Yalkut or anything. How can we say aggados chalukos if it's not an aggada?? (Note - there are places that Rishonim quote Midrashim that are not found in the classic sources – see the famous Tosafot in Bava Basra 119b about the wood-gatherer that likewise has no known source.)
The best we have is a Toras Kohanim in Vayikra (Parsha 10:17) referenced in Ohr HaChaim (Breishis 12:6) that merely says:
והיא אינה אלא חלקו של שם ואתה בניו של שם.
That the land is the portion of Shem. It does not clearly state that Shem received the land when Noach apportioned it. Perhaps Toras Kohanim only means that it was destined for Shem but that Noach actually awarded it to Cham? And even if it was awarded to Shem from Noach, there is no mention about how or why it came to the hands of Kanaan. If this is Rashi's only source, it is only telling half the story. How does Rashi know the other half?
To summarize, the Talmud Bavli, Rashi in Breishis 1:1, and the Chumash in Breishis 10:9 all seem to indicate that Cham was the original legitimate sovereign of Eretz Israel. Yet, Rashi here (12:6) insists that Shem initially inhabited it and Cham stole it from him!
Who was here first?
Let us look at another troublesome pasuk.
The Chumash (Breishis 14:1) tells us, “And it was in the days of Amaraphel the king of Shinar, Aryoch king of Elasar, Kedarlaomer king of Eilam…”
Rashi tells us that Amaraphel was in actuality Nimrod. And we sure know who he was! He was the biggest, meanest king on the face of the Earth. Nobody messed around with Nimrod. He was Numero Uno. This is presumably why he is here at the head of the pack.
But wait! This is the last time Nimrod gets first billing. And he is only mentioned in this story one more time – batting third! What happened to him?
Only 3 pasukim later (Breishis 14:4) the pasuk says: “For 12 years they served Kedarlaomer…”
Kedarlaomer? Where did he come from? Oh yeah - Eilam! Where’s that?
Why were they serving Kedarlaomer? Wasn’t everybody subservient to the great and despotic Nimrod?
And in the next pasuk (Breishis 14:5), here he is again. He seems to be at the head of the pack.
Rashi tells us: Because he was the “baal maaseh” (instigator) he entered into the thick of the frey.
Excuse me, but why was he the “baal maaseh”? Wasn’t he batting third at the beginning of this story?
With the help of Sefer HaYashar (a book of Midrashim of dubious authenticity) and the Oznayim L’Torah (Breishis 14:2 s.v. Asu Milchama) we can put a new spin on this story and perhaps an answer to the contradiction in Rashi.
You see, Nimrod was a tough mean guy. Probably the toughest and meanest there was. And he was a fierce king. He did not need to answer to anybody – except for one person: Kedarlaomer.
Yep, as great as Nimrod was, Kedarlaomer was greater. This is because Shem was the elite of Noach’s sons. He got first pick (even though Yefes was the bechor, Shem was born circumcised – Rashi, Breishis 5:32). And Eilam was Shem’s first born. He got first pick at everything. And Kedarlaomer was the favorite son of Eilam, the king. And a great king he was. Even Nimrod shuddered from him. This is because Noach made the sons of Cham servants to Shem (see Sanhedrin 91a).
When Noach apportioned the new world to his sons, he awarded the prime real estate – Eretz Israel – to his prized son, Shem. Shem in turn granted it to his first born, Eilam. However, Eilam did not want to take possession of Eretz Israel for himself. I can only venture a guess as to why – but I will suggest that the klal of ארץ ישראל נקנה ביסורים applied even from day one. So he chose to set up his kingdom in southern Iran instead (Shushan HaBira was in Eilam). But, so as to maintain sovereignty on this precious land, he had a great plan: He will “allow” his underlings, the slave nation of Kanaan, to settle the land; BUT – they must pay him an annual tribute. Among other reasons, this is so nobody should forget that the land is really his.
Of course, he didn’t want the dirty work of collecting taxes from these deadbeats – so he gave the job to his Numero Duo – his chief “enforcer” the invincible king of the sons of Cham – Nimrod. It was Nimrod’s responsibility to see to it that the Kanaanites pay their taxes to Kedarlaomer. Nimrod dealt directly with the populace, took his cut, and funneled the rest up to the boss.
For 12 years this arrangement worked just dandy. The people paid their taxes; to who? – to Kedarlaomer. Just they did it via Nimrod. Finally, for the next 13 years they staged a tax rebellion. Nimrod wasn’t happy but Kedarlaomer seemed not to notice so things dragged along. Finally, after 13 years, Kedarlaomer told Nimrod that enough is enough and that Nimrod had better talk some sense into these savages. Thus, initially Nimrod led the crusade into the Holy Land and Kedarlaomer just came along for the ride. As such Nimrod and his deputy Aryoch went first and Kedarlaomer and his pal Thidal came after. But in reality, it wasn’t Nimrod’s battle. It was Kedarlaomer’s. He was the real feudal lord of Eretz Israel, it was his land, not Nimrod’s. That is why he was the “baal maaseh”.
When the battle heated up (imagine the temperature in Sodom), Nimrod wasn’t getting the job done. I would surmise that Nimrod had mixed alliances as he was truly a Chammite and Kedarlaomer was a Semite. Nimrod didn’t want to wipe out fellow Chammites and in truth he was an anti-Semite. So, Kedarlaomer, who knew it was his fight, had to take charge. That is why in pasuk 14:9 his position is moved up ahead of Nimrod’s (as Rashi says) and again he is the only king named in pasuk 14:17.
Now, if we take all this as the real story (up to you) we can resolve the apparent contradictions in Rashi. Firstly, we will have to presume the following:
- Noach did not apportion the new world the day after they stepped out of the Ark. He first waited for his sons to produce a few generations of people to do some populating. When he finally did it, people such as Eilam and Kush and Nimrod and Kedarlaomer were already up and around.
- Immediately upon the apportionment of the new world, Shem received Eretz Israel, and he immediately granted it to Eilam who was ruled by Kedarlaomer, and he immediately sold Nimrod and the Kanaanim building rights in Eretz Israel. This was at the same time as Egypt was awarded to Mitzrayim son of Cham. As such, Cham had the initial building rights to both Kanaan (Eretz Israel) and Mitzrayim even though technically Eretz Israel never belonged to him. It was only his on loan.
With this approach, we can say that our Rashi (Breishis 12:6) understands that Noach actually awarded Eretz Israel to Shem but Shem immediately “sold” to Cham (Kanaan) the rights to “conquer” it. When Rashi says they “were progressively conquering it from the sons of Shem”, he didn’t mean they occupied it by force, but rather with permission granted to them from the sons of Shem (Oznayim L’Torah 14:2).
Now, it is no longer difficult that the Torah (10:19) acknowledges to Kanaan defined borders. These were the borders that were allocated to them in their contract with the sons of Shem.
Likewise, we can answer the Rashi in Breishis 1:1 that even though the land was the true inheritance of Shem, since the Kanaanim were the first to settle it, and it was done without force, it appears as if it was originally their land. We could truly answer the nations that the land always belonged to us (also, we can answer in the manner of the Talmud in Sanhedrin 91a) but since it will not satisfy those who only know what they see, we need an alternative response that the whole world belongs to its Creator.
And finally, the gemara in Sota and Kesubos (Rashi in Bamidbar 13:22) is justified in asking why Cham built Chevron for Kanaan before Tzoahn for Mitzrayim and it did not give the obvious answer that Chevron was built by Shem. This is because even though the land belonged to Shem, Cham was “sold” the license to build there.
Thus, in spite of what seems to be a major concession in Breishis 1:1, Breishis 10:19, and Bamidbar 13:22 – if we stick with the Rashi that we see here in Breishis 12:6 we can proudly assert that the land always was, is and will remain the property of the sons of Shem.
Now, wasn’t Yishmael’s mother Egyptian?