Yaakov and the Land of Canaan
The Torah parsha begins with the simple narrative statement that Yaakov
settled and “dwelled in the land of the sojourn of his forefathers, the Land
of Canaan.” That last clause in that sentence – the Land of Canaan – seems
to be superfluous. We are already well aware from the previous parshiyot of
Bereshith that Avraham and Yitzchak dwelt in the Land of Canaan. Since every
word and phrase in the Torah demands our attention and study, the
commentators to Torah throughout the ages examined this issue and proposed a
number of different lessons and insights.
I believe that the lessons for our time from these words that open our
parsha are eerily relevant. Yaakov is forced to live in a hostile
environment. The story of the assault on Dina and the subsequent violence
and bloodshed between Yaakov’s family and the Canaanites serves as the
backdrop to this type of life that living in the Land of Canaan entails.
Yaakov is living in a bad neighborhood, amongst many who wish him and his
family ill. He is forced to rely on the sword of Shimon and Levi to survive
but that is not to his liking or ultimate life purpose. The Land of Canaan
is not hospitable to him and his worldview.
The Philistine kings who wished to kidnap and enslave his mother and
grandmother are still around or at least their cloned successors are. At
the funeral of his father at the Cave of Machpela he must have ruefully
mused as to how his grandfather was forced to pay such an exorbitant price
for a burial plot.
The Land of Canaan had many unpleasant associations connected to it for
Yaakov to contemplate: a king’s ransom to Eisav, a rock for a pillow, and
crippling encounters with an anonymous foe. All of this and more was his
lot in the Land of Canaan.
So what is Yaakov’s stubborn attachment to living in the Land of Canaan? Why
does he believe that he will be able to eventually dwell there in serenity
and security? The answer to these issues is that he realized that this was
the land of his ancestors and that the Lord had entered into a covenant with
them to grant them that land.
Now it could be that it is called the Land of Canaan but eternally it would
be called after his name, the Land of Israel. The land would know many
populations and rulers but that would never change its eternal nature of
being the Land of Israel. The land is home for Yaakov – the land of his past
and his future. It is what binds him to his great ancestral heritage and
mission - and he will demand to be buried there as well.
Yaakov overlooks the difficulties and challenges inherent in the Land of
Canaan because he lives not only in its geographic confines but rather in
the ideal land of his forefathers – in a land of Godly revelation and holy
purpose. Yaakov will undergo much more pain and suffering in the Land of
Canaan before he returns there in final tranquility. But his descendants,
the Jewish people will always know it to be the land of their fathers, the
Land of Israel.
Rabbi Berel Wein