“And Yehoshua sent messengers who ran to the tent and behold it was buriedin the tent with the money under it.”
Scriptures describe these messengers as “malachim” which literally meansangels. This mission seems to have required extremely devoted people forits fulfillment. The Jewish nation finally identified the criminal and wasin the midst of rectifying the crime. This demanded that they remove fromtheir midst any trace of the stolen items. Yehoshua realized thetemptation that could present itself when the messengers would be exposedto these items. Who knew the full extent of the theft and what they wouldreally find? He therefore sent people likened to angels whom he trustedwould fulfill their mission to perfection. They would undoubtedly returnwith every particle of stolen goods thereby clearing the Jewish nation fromall previous association with Achan’s sin.
Radak shares with us a unique perspective on the swift response of themessengers. He explains that their behavior reflected the nation’s feelingof relief and joy. The curse had been lifted and the nation was finallycleared of suspicion. Until this point, the stolen items were regarded inthe possession of the collective Jewish nation. Now that Achan wasdiscovered, the blame shifted and limited itself to him. The messengerstherefore excitedly ran to the tent full of happiness over their removingthe theft from amongst the people.
“And they retrieved the items from the tent and brought them to Yehoshuaand the entire Jewish nation and spilled them before Hashem.”
The messengers presented the stolen items to Yehoshua in the presence ofthe entire nation. This completed the nation’s legal repentance process.They were collectively responsible for the theft and they now collectivelyreturned the stolen items to their owner. They sincerely contemplatedtheir association to this crime and resolved to heighten their sensitivitytowards shameful acts such as this. They gazed at the stolen items withserious regret for their social climate which gave rise to Achan’s atrocity.
Our Sages teach us that this was their first exposure to collectiveresponsibility and its consequences. Hashem established thisresponsibility during Moshe’s parting days subject to their entry to EretzYisroel. Now that they entered they were held severely at fault forAchan’s act. Their first fateful experience sent them a clear messagewhich they absorbed very quickly. They resolved from that point that noone would ever feel comfortable and secure to commit such crimes in theprivacy of his home. The Jewish people’s future environment would includea powerful surveillance system which would focus on this dimension. Nocrime would ever be buried so deeply amongst the people to require drawingof lots to expose it. The Jewish nation’s ethical fiber would includetremendous sensitivity towards the possessions of others and certainlyHashem’s treasury.
Rashi quotes our Sages who offer an intriguing interpretation to thispassage. They explain that Yehoshua spilled the items before Hashem andexclaimed, “Should the majority of the Jewish supreme court perish becauseof these?!” These words are difficult to digest because they suggest thatYehoshua challenged Hashem’s judgment. The issue at hand was obviously notthe sacred treasury’s loss of possessions. The Jewish people were faultedfor a sinful act which showed tremendous disrespect for Hashem. What thenwas Yehoshua’s objective when making this display?
We can offer the following interpretation to Yehoshua’s plea. Hashemjudged His entire nation by the highest standard of justice. He took awayone of their greatest leaders because of one person’s shameful actions.Yehoshua understood that this standard was necessary to establish theseverity of collective responsibility. However, Yehoshua pleaded withHashem to relax His extreme standard of judgment. Yehoshua presented thatthe Jewish people properly learned their lesson and that their firstexperience would suffice. After this catastrophe, there would be notolerance for private crime and any sinner should be held mainlyresponsible for his own actions. The people were prepared to do theirutmost to prevent all atrocious behavior and whatever slipped through theirhands should not be judged so severely. In essence, Yehoshua’s display wasa plea for the future. Now that the people cleaned up their act please donot fault them so severely for any individual’s actions. Hashem, pleaserelax your standards and accept their serious attempt to perfect thesystem. Please do not bring the entire nation major calamity for therelatively small wrongs of an individual.
“And Yehoshua took Achan the son of Zerach and the money, cloak and goldtongue, and his sons and daughters and his oxen, donkeys and sheep, and histent and all his belongings together with the entire Jewish nation and hebrought them up to the Valley of the Ruined.”
Achan’s sinful behavior jeopardized the entire Jewish nation. His atrocitybrought much disdain to Hashem and His people. Now that the Jewish peoplewashed their hands from this sin it was time to cleanse the environment.They wished to leave no trace of Achan’s attitude amongst them. They didnot want the faintest association with one who trespassed Hashem’s ban.They therefore destroyed every one of Achan’s possessions permanentlydetaching themselves from their sinful involvement in this sin.
Achan is identified here as the son of his great grandfather, Zerachrather than the son of his father, Carmi. In light of the aboveunderstanding we can explain this in the following manner. We previouslylearned of the peculiar circumstances that related to Zerach’s birth. TheTorah reveals that Zerach’s hand protruded from his mother’s womb followedby the actual birth of his older brother, Peretz. Our Sages saw this as anindication to the tendency of Zerach’s offspring’s to unlawfully penetratebarriers. This curse lingered over Zerach’s family until now when Achanfully exposed this harmful nature. The Jewish people were fed up with thisattitude and pledged to remove it from their midst. In effect, thepeople’s horrifying experience cleansed Zerach’s family as well.Undoubtedly, Zerach’s descendants reached down to the core of theirinclinations and rid themselves from such sinful tendencies. Achan was andwould remain the singular expression of Zerach’s experience and his familycould now identify with the qualities of their prominent tribe, Yehuda.
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