I can understand why it took 7 years to conquer Eretz Yisrael from the Canaanites. The Torah tells us that if we conquer the land too quickly the wild animals will proliferate before we can settle the entire country. Why should it take 7 years to distribute the land, however. The distribution was done al pi hagoral in conjunction with the oorim v'tumim. Which shevet and which family gets which areas and which plots of land is Divinely ordained by Hash-m through the goral. Why should that process take seven years?
Sam Kosofsky, Hillcrest Queens NY, USA
It is difficult to ascertain how long the Kivush and the Chiluk should have taken, but let me quote the words of Rabeinu Bachye in Parshas Matos (31:3), which I think will solve your question. On the verse in Matos, where Hash-m ordered Moshe Rabeinu to send an army to attack Midyan, Rabeinu Bachye cites a Midrash and writes, "Even though he (Moshe Rabeinu) knew that his death depended upon it (i.e., he would die immediately after the battle), he did not delay. The Midrash points out that Yehoshua did not follow in Moshe's footsteps. When he came to fight against the 31 kings (of Kena'an) he said [to himself], 'If I fight them now, I will die immediately afterwards, just as Moshe did after defeating the kings of Midyan!' So what did he do? He began to take his time over the fighting, as the verse testifies in Yehoshua (11:14). So Hash-m said to him, 'I will curtail your life by ten years; he was destined to live until 120, like Moshe Rabeinu, but he died at the age of 110. And that is what the verse means in Mishlei (19:21), 'Many are the thoughts of man, but Hash-m's plans will be upheld.'"
Clearly, Yehoshua took his time over the fighting, and this delay was based
on a strategy, as the Midrash explains. (Obviously, the Midrash needs elucidation. Yehoshua was not the type of leader who would have acted selfishly and delay the war or the distribution of the land for his own benefit. Rather, perhaps he recognized that the Jewish people needed him and his guidance, and thus he reasoned that he was justified in delaying the event that would be followed by his death.) If, as you assume, the distribution of the land indeed could have taken less time than it did, then perhaps Yehoshua's death was destined to take place only after the war had ended and the land had been distbributed, and thus the conclusion of both of which he delayed.
B'Virchas Kol Tuv,
Here are my thoughts on what caused the delay.
(a) Yehoshua 18:1-10 notes that, following the lots that were cast for the shevatim of Yehudah and Yosef, Yehoshua criticized the other tribes for being lazy in their possession of the land. The Malbim (18:3) quotes an explanation that the other tribes, lacking the courage of Yehudah and Yosef, did not want to claim portions of the land for their own, for fear that once such was done, the other tribes would not help them complete the conquest of their portions (and indeed, we see in numerous places, amongst them Shoftim 1:27-36, that the conquest was not complete, even after the seven years). Hence, at least a portion of the delay was against Yehoshua's will.
(b) Following this, Yehoshua sent out a force of 21 men to survey the land and to divide it into 7 portions, for the purpose of casting lots. This mission, to allow the representatives of the people to ensure that all 7 remaining chalakim of the land were equivalent, could very well have taken the bulk of 7 years. (I'm not sure why Yehudah and Yosef did not have to be part of this process, though.)
Kol Tuv, Joshua Meisner