Classic Questions

Why does the Torah specify the borders of the Land here? (v. 2ff)

Rashi: Since many mitzvos are practiced in the Land [of Israel] and do not apply outside the Land, it was necessary for scripture to chart the outer limits of its boundaries from all sides, to inform you that the mitzvos are practiced everywhere within these borders.

Ralbag: G‑d informed them of the precise parameters of the Land so that they would not conquer too little or too much land.

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Borders of the Land (v. 2ff.)

In his commentary on verse 2, Rashi explains that the Torah describes the borders of the Land of Israel here in order to make known where the mitzvos that only apply in the Land are to be performed.

However, at the literal level, it seems that the interpretation of Ralbag is more appropriate here, that G‑d informed the Jewish people of the borders so they would know exactly which lands to conquer. For at this point in time the Jewish people are preparing to conquer the Land. What forced Rashi to conclude that the description of the Land's borders here is primarily connected to the observance of mitzvos which will only become relevant much later, after they conquer the Land?

The Explanation

Rashi's conclusion is based on two points:

  1. Verse 2 stresses: "The following is the Land which will fall to you as an inheritance." The stress that the Land would "fall" to the Jewish people appears superfluous here, suggesting that the Land would pass effortlessly into the possession of the Jewish people through the help of G‑d. From this, Rashi concluded that the current passage cannot only be referring to the conquest of the Land by the people, but it must also be connected to G‑d's relationship with the Land. So Rashi concluded that we are speaking here about the mitzvos which are observed exclusively in the Land.
  2. Since the conquest was to be conducted by Yehoshua, and not Moshe, we would have expected the Torah to state, "Command Yehoshua." The fact that this passage is addressed specifically to Moshe indicated to Rashi that the main emphasis here is not the conquest of the Land but the mitzvos that are to be observed in the Land, which were indeed taught to the Jewish people by Moshe.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 13, pp. 122-4)