“And the Jewish people sinned and violated the ban when Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zavdi, son of Zerach from the tribe of Yehuda took from the banned items thereby kindling Hashem’s wrath against the Jewish people.”
We will soon learn that this single breach of ethics was cause for a serious defeat at Ay. Although only one person, Achan, partook of the spoils, the entire nation was held at fault. This collective responsibility was the result of a special covenant they recently made at Mount Eival. At that historic moment every Jewish man obligated himself in securing that no Jewish soul would overtly step out of line. They accepted upon themselves to maintain the moral fabric of Judaism at its highest level. Achan, in acting out of turn, reflected a weakness of the Jewish nation’s sensitivity towards the possessions of others, Hashem’s possessions notwithstanding. This single and subtle violation at the outset of the Jewish nation’s entry could not go unnoticed and received severe response from above.
When studying our passage, we draw our attention to the lengthy account of Achan’s lineage. Scriptures trace him all the way back to Yehuda’s son Zerach but not one step further to Yehuda himself. Instead, he is identified as belonging to the prestigious tribe of Yehuda, a most obvious factor. Furthermore, as we study the accompanying “trop” – chanting notes – we are struck by amazement. After presenting Achan’s lineage, the passage continues with the following group of words, “From the tribe ofYehuda (who took) from the ban.” This sugggests a specific relationship between the tribe of Yehuda and the violation of the ban, albeit omitting Yehuda personally from everything.
We glean from this that Achan carried the trademark of his tribe yet in a different way than its founder, Yehuda. This can be developed through a careful analysis of the Torah’s account of the events revolving around the birth of Yehuda’s twins Peretz and Zerach. The Torah states, “And it was during birth that he (Zerach) extended a hand… And as he returned the hand behold his brother came out and she (the midwife) said, ‘Oh! how you broke through!’ and he named him Peretz” (Breishis 38:28,29). This peculiar set of circumstances is cause for serious reflection. But an additional concern is the words of Rashi here. Rashi quotes our Sages who note the repeated usage of the word “hands” four times during Zerach’s birth. They explain that these hands refer to the four items which Zerach’s descendant, Achan took when violating the ban. How startling it is to discover that Achan’s incident was a major focus even at the time of the birth of his ancestor Zerach!!!
The resolution to this lies within the distinct nature of the Jewish king. Our Sages state, “A king is permitted to break through a fence” referring to his authority to disregard the law when deemed appropriate. For example, a king may destroy one’s field to protect his nation or confiscate property to display his authority. He is even entrusted with life and death decisions without the usual testimony if he senses any challenge of his authority. This freedom requires the unique personality of one who is in complete control of his power without ever abusing it for personal reasons (see Kli Yakar ad loc).
The Jewish nation is, by nature, a people of discipline. It is absolutely contrary to the Jewish psyche for one to be permitted to step out of line and break the law. Yet, it was important for the tribe of the kings to develop this quality for its respective needs. It may be understood that this was a major factor in the Divine plan for the union of Yehuda and Tamar. Although, on the surface this act appears to be a serious breach in modesty we are taught that Tamar’s intentions were purely for the sake of Heaven. She possessed a burning desire to be the bearer of the kings of Israel and resorted to this secretive way to accomplish this. This seemingly outlandish act injected into the bloodstream of Yehuda’s offsprings the ability to step out of line when necessary.
Baal HaTurim (ad loc) explains that this was Yehuda’s intention when naming his son Peretz, literally “the break through.” Through this he was reflecting the potential of Peretz’s offsprings to be kings over Israel. Apparently, Yehuda understood the Divine message of the circumstances revolving around the birth of his children. Peretz’s unwarranted breakthrough at birth revealed his royal privilege to break the law when necessary. But what about Zerach? Although he also extended his hand, only the hand was extended. His experience at birth also reflected breakthrough, but his behavior had the potential of satisfying his hand, his personal gratification. Tamar’s act had dual ramifications, those of positive qualities and those of another sort. Although both Peretz and Zerach were pious in their own rite the potential of their offsprings differed greatly. The positive side of Tamar’s act expressed itself in Peretz while the negative connotations of her secrecy left their mark on Zerach. The Torah reveals to us at the outset that the lineage of King David was a pure one. Even though its origins seem to stem from a breach in the moral code, such was not the case. King David came from Peretz who reserved his royal quality of breakthrough for the sake of Heaven. Any trace of imperfection or personal agenda found its way into the Zerach side of Yehuda’s family which ultimately expressed itself in Achan’s violation of the ban.
We now return to our passage with this newly gained insight. Achan’s lineage is recorded up until Zerach but does not include Yehuda himself. As we have seen, the quality of Yehuda’s royalty includes breakthrough. However, as in Yehuda’s own situation, this ability can serve in a most positive way. From this we realize that it was meant to serve in this fashion. Achan, unfortunately, misused this quality and endangered through this the entire nation. Yehuda, the pious ancestor, was not to be blamed for this, and for this reason his name was not mentioned in Achan’s lineage.
Yet, even Achan’s action stems from a natural tendency introduced to the family many years before during the birth of his ancestor, Zerach. Even such faults, though unjustified, have an explanation for themselves. But this does not in any way mean a shortcoming in the ethical fiber of our people. Although Yehuda’s offsprings do possess a tendency of breakthrough, it is to be utilized solely for positive purposes. Achan’s violation of the ban was a preversion of the royal family’s values and could not be justified. We now realize how informative are the “trop” – chanting notes. Achan’s violation of the ban was the result of the tribe of Yehuda and did carry its trademark. However, this positive ability, as in all abilities, must be directed towards the sake of Hashem and not for personal gratification. If misdirected, even the most positive of dimensions will lead to a negative when used for personal gratification.
How often do we condone one’s behavior because we identify its true source of action? Scriptures take a very different position on this and hold one totally accountable for such action because of the personal direction it assumed. Let us seek to utilize all our positive abilities for Hashem’s sake thereby securing that their results will be positive ones.
“And Yehoshua sent men from Yericho to Ay which is east of Bethel next to Bais Aven and said to them as follows, ‘Go up and scout the land,’ and the men went up and scouted Ay.”
The Scriptures mention that Yehoshua sent the scouts from Yericho, a detail seemingly insignificant to us. However, upon careful reflection, we realize the impact of this statement. In truth, nothing remained of the city of Yericho, and, as we will learn later (see 9:6), the Jewish people were actually stationed in Gilgal, not in Yericho. Another point to be considered is the Scriptures’ detailed description of Ay’s location being near Beis Aven and east of Bethel. Finally, we notice a discrepancy between Yehoshua’s order to scout the land and the scout’s adherence to this by scouting Ay, and not the land.
In order to appreciate the hidden lesson of our passage, it is important to realize the transitional point of Ay in the conquest of the land. Thus far, the nation’s experiences were totally miraculous. Their entry to the land was achieved through a breathtaking splitting of the Jordan and their capture of Yericho through the sinking of its fortified wall. It seems; however, that from this point and on no prophetic messages were being heard. Apparently, the massive task of conquering the land was taking a shift. After receiving their initial injection, it was now time for the nation to conduct ordinary combat and warfare. Hashem would undoubtedly assist them, but His assistance would be masked in natural occurrences and no longer be displayed through open miracles. The key factor would be their total trust in Hashem Whose involvement would be behind the scenes.
Realizing this, Yehoshua proceeded in the plans of conquest, going directly from Yericho even before returning home to Gilgal. Building on the newly gained confidence of the Yericho victory, Yehoshua anticipated that the scouts would return with a strategic plan for the Ay attack. As is evidenced by the next passage It seems that this confidence carried itself further than expected.
“And they returned to Yehoshua and said to him, ‘The entire nation need not go up; two or three thousand men will suffice. Do not exhaust the entire nation because the natives are few.'”
The scouts, instead of surveying the area, returned with comment about Ay’s population. Upon discovering its meager size, they suggested that a small brigade would suffice to conquer it. Unbeknownst to them was Achan’s sin which greatly effected Hashem’s open involvement in their war. Under these circumstances, total trust in Hashem was of absolute necessity. Achan’s violation of the ban reflected his improper sense of personal credit in the Yericho victory. He probably reasoned that although the walls miraculously sunk, the actual war was won by the Jewish people. Following this faulty thinking, he was entitled to the spoils. But the reality wasn’t that way and the Jewish people deserved no credit for the war. This improper attitude was compounded at Ay. The response of the scouts reflected a similar approach; namely, that with their military strength the victory of Ay was a foregone conclusion.
In order to fully understand Hashem’s response, let us visit the Ay of ancient times, the times of Avrohom Avinu. The Torah records that Ay was one of Avrohom’s first stops in Eretz Yisroel (Breishis 12:6). There he erected an altar for Hashem and publicly declared His name. Ramban (ad loc.) notes that Avrohom Avinu did not feel safe to publicly identify with Hashem until he received an open revelation about the Promised Land. The Canaanites were a hostile idolatrous people who would never tolerate Avrohom’s teachings. Ay was the first location where Avrohom actually permitted himself to publicize his newly discovered truth of monotheism. In essence, the neighboring area of Ay – between Ay and Bethel – represented Avrohom’s full sense of security demonstrating Hashem’s protection in the land.
This background is helpful in appreciating the Jewish people’s experience at Ay. The scouts erroneously relied upon their recent victory at Yericho during which each Jewish warrior smote one Canaanite. The population of Ay’s warriors totaled close to three thousand. The scouts, banking on their Yericho experience, reasoned that a corresponding group of Jewish warriors would suffice. However, things greatly changed since Yericho when trust in Hashem was easily achieved through open miracles. But at Ay Hashem was seemingly working behind the scenes. For lack of open revelations, a sense of trust in their natural military strength easily developed and severely reduced Hashem’s involvement in the war. Ay was the place for total trust in Hashem without any reliance on their personal abilities. Unfortunately, Achav’s violation compounded by this mistaken attitude led to their defeat.
This historic location, between Ay and Bethel, should have reminded the scouts of Avrohom Avinu’s perfect faith. It was there that Avrohom fearlessly publicized Hashem’s name and involvement in this world. Realizing this, they would have also placed their total trust in Hashem rather than relying upon their own military strength. Scriptures therefore remind us of the exact location of Ay to contrast the faith of the Patriarchs and that of the future generations. If only they had taken example from Avrohom Avinu. Not having done so, it was difficult to identify them with his merits and they suffered serious defeat.
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