In The Territorial Imperative, Robert Ardrey argues that a universal, primal instinct encompasses both the animal kingdom and humankind: the compulsion to possess and defend territory. Without territory, “territorial species” cease to exist.
Just one problem, which Ardrey, try as he might, cannot quite wedge into his category: the Jews. For nearly 1,900 years, the Jews had no territory and were subjected to terrible persecutions, yet still flourished as scholars, traders, and even builders of community. Clearly, “territorial imperative” needs to be redefined. For the Torah, territory is something less to be defended than to be sanctified, and something whose importance rises as its size shrinks.
Of all the comments on the Torah, one of the oddest is that of Rashi on the very first verse of Genesis, “In the beginning G-d created . . . ” Rashi wonders: Is the entire book of Genesis unnecessary and, for that matter, the first eleven chapters of Exodus too? Rashi suggests they are pointless because the purpose of the Torah is to lay down the laws of G-d. Since these do not begin until the twelfth chapter of Exodus, everything before that is pointless.
Thus wonders Rashi.
If the question is odd, Rashi’s answer, at first blush, is even odder. The reason G-d must recount the creation of the cosmos is to establish a legal defense for the Jewish right to the Land of Israel. The defense? G-d created the world. Ergo, G-d owns the world. Ergo, G-d may give any part of the world to whomever He wishes. Ergo, G-d’s gift of the Land of Israel to the Jewish nation is above any legal challenge.