“And Achan responded to Yehoshua and said, ‘In truth, I sinned against Hashem of Israel and did these wrongs.'” Our Sages learn from here the power of confession and how crucial it can be. They deduce from upcoming verses that Achan retrieved his portion in Olam Habba because he sincerely confessed. They explain that without repentance one’s execution is nothing more than a punishment for his action. But, if he admits his guilt and sincerely repents the execution then serves as complete atonement allowing him to regain his portion in Olam Habba.
Achan is a prime example of a sinner who took things to heart and repented in full. Seder Hayom tells us that Achan composed the moving prayer “Al Kein N’kave,” probably during his last moments of life. He apparently intended it to be an everlasting tribute and therefore disguised his name in the first letters of its opening words, “A,” “Ka,” and N”. Careful analysis of this prayer should give us much insight to the prevailing atmosphere of those times. Yet, we are initially shocked to discover that the prayer does not mention of the ban or its violation. In addition, we find no trace of repentance in the entire prayer, only lofty aspirations for the perfect world of Mashiach. Did these esoteric thoughts preoccupy Achan’s heart and mind on the way to his execution? Were these visions his sole concern at his most precious moments of life?
We can respond that indeed this was Achan’s total focus at the time. Let us review Yehoshua’s overriding concern after the Jewish people’s defeat at Ay. He pleaded with Hashem, “And the Canaanites and all the land’s inhabitants will hear of this defeat and surround us and defeat us, and what will You, Hashem do for Your great name?!” (7:9). Yehoshua expressed here that Hashem’s glory was the greatest concern of all. Until this point, the nations were awe stricken by Hashem’s lead role in the war of conquest. The battle of Ay was the turning point because this was the first time Hashem did not defend His people. Although in part they deserved this response most of the blame belonged to Achan. In the final analysis, Achan’s atrocity was the action that threatened to reduce Hashem’s glory in a major way.
The past could not be undone and its consequences would remain forever. The Canaanites undoubtedly read their message with glee and armed themselves for offensive as well as defensive maneuvers. Thanks to Achan, they realized that Hashem protects His people with discretion. The Jewish nation did not go beyond the boarder’s cities and already experienced defeat. This opened the door for them to wage war against the Jewish people and consider that Hashem may not come to His people’s defense. We will soon learn the extent of the Canaanite’s confidence when twenty-one zealous mighty kings rallied against the intruding Jewish nation.
In addition, the defeat at Ay strengthened the Canaanite nations’ stand off policy. We know, historically speaking, that the Jewish nation successfully conquered most the bulk of the nations. Yet, many pockets of stubborn Canaanite groups remained untouched. Eventually, these foreign ethnic groups found their way into Jewish circles and lured their Jewish neighbors into intermarriage and idolatry. This breakdown of Jewish values ultimately led to the Jewish nation’s painful exile.
Achan fully understood the consequences of his actions and realized their potential treat to the entire Jewish nation. This thought tormented Achan because, above all, it meant serious disdain to Hashem’s glory. The nations of the world would never view Hashem with their original perception. Irrespective of past or future miracles, the fact remained that Hashem’s people suffered defeat. This left an indelible impression on the nations who would never relate to Hashem with their original awe.
We can suggest that Achan sought to rectify this before leaving this world and therefore composed his moving prayer. Therein he expresses the Jewish nation’s deep desire for the speedy revelation of Hashem’s glory. He directs their concern to the removal of every trace of idolatry which will ultimately yield total recognition of Hashem. He prays for the entire world to achieve its purpose with every human being prostrating himself before Hashem proclaiming Him the Master of the universe. Achan understood how difficult this would be to accomplish in the immediate future. His sin gave the idolatrous Canaanite nations the necessary courage to believe in their own strength and conviction. The glaring truths of the splitting of the Jordan and Yericho were fading away and the nations were no longer on the verge of conversion. Although Rachav initially indicated that the inhabitants fully recognized Hashem’s awesome strength, this was no longer the case.
Achan wished to do all he could to rectify this. He therefore injected his visions and aspirations into the Jewish blood stream hoping for them to become part and parcel of the Jewish people’s psyche. Even if they wouldn’t actually experience Hashem’s final revelation they would experience it in their hearts. In this manner every generation would bear testimony to Hashem’s ultimate glory which would, in itself, assist in bringing the world to its ultimate purpose.
Our Sages responded to Achan’s request and instituted his prayer in the Mussaf Amida of Rosh Hashana. Hashem’s majesty is so tangible on Rosh Hashana that one can actually breathe the air of the Messianic era. This experience reaches its peak in the Mussaf Amida where one is totally absorbed in thought and aspires to behold, in full, Hashem’s majesty. What more appropriate place could there be for Achan’s tefila? They therefore included Achan’s prayer immediately following Yehoshua’s prayer of Aleinu. This prayer concludes with the proclamation of Hashem’s majesty – almost identical to the one of the convert Rachav. It is immediately followed by Achan’s prayer that the above proclamation should be made by all. We pray that every human being follow Rachav’s example and that the entire world recognizes these truths.
However, as years went on, relating to our glorious future became a pressing need. The Jewish people felt buried in their exile and found it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our Rabbis therefore incorporated this prayer into our daily services. Every praying experience now concludes with this heartfelt plea for Hashem’s ultimate revelation. Every Jewish person now shares Achan’s vision of the future and constantly expresses Achan’s last will and testament. In conclusion we now reflect upon Achan’s total turnabout and say, “How great is the power of repentance and how far reaching can be its results!!”
“And I saw amongst the spoils a nice Babylonian cloak, two hundred silver coins, and a fifty pound golden tongue. And I coveted and took them. Behold they are buried in the ground in the midst of the tent of mine with the money under it.”
Achan’s confession extended far beyond his basic crime. He painfully and publicly reviewed every detail of his sin beginning from the moment he beheld the tempting items. He even identified with his coveting nature and blamed his wrongdoing on it. Achan reached the epitome of purity and traced his sin back to its source. In addition to regretting his grave offense, he extended this regret to his sinful nature. Apparently, this is why he focused on the stolen items and considered the stolen silver coins of lighter nature. He felt that his real problem was his coveting nature that did not allow him to pass by such tempting items.
Rashi quotes the insight of our Sages who explain that Achan felt somewhat justified because the Torah grants the spoils to the winners of a war. Although Achan originally defended himself through this he now recognized the true source of his problem. He publicly admitted that his sin really stemmed from his lack of control over his passions. He sinned because he could not resist temptation and succumbed to his overpowering desire to possess all within his reach. Even in this aspect Achan became a prime example of repentance. During his moment of truth he accurately reflected upon his actions. His last moments did not allow for any misgivings and he openly attributed his wrong to its real source.
Achan, in some way, finally displayed his true Judean character and owned up to his fault, in full. This ability truly identified him with Judean royalty following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Yehuda. In fact, Yaakov Avinu granted Yehuda the status of royalty for this exact reason. He blessed Yehuda and said, “Yehuda, your brothers will admit to you… A cub and then lion shall be Yehuda because you removed yourself from unwarranted behavior” (Breishis 49:8,9). Rashi explains that Yehuda displayed his ultimate strength of character when he publicly admitted to his fault. Instead of executing Tamar for her innocent and pure intentions, Yehuda publicly embarrassed himself and admitted his guilt. Rashi explains that Yehuda merited royalty because he openly displayed this character. Kli Yakar quotes our Sages who explain that Yehuda’s name by definition means to admit. Although Achan was executed for straying so severely from the path, he left this world a pious person whose death atoned for all his sins. He did display, in his final moments, his true potential and perfectly reflected the royal qualities of his pious predecessor, Yehuda.
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