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Yehoshua Reflections

Chapter 7, Verses 22-24

(7:22)

"And Yehoshua sent messengers who ran to the tent and behold it was buried in the tent with the money under it."

Scriptures describe these messengers as "malachim" which literally means angels. This mission seems to have required extremely devoted people for its fulfillment. The Jewish nation finally identified the criminal and was in the midst of rectifying the crime. This demanded that they remove from their midst any trace of the stolen items. Yehoshua realized the temptation that could present itself when the messengers would be exposed to these items. Who knew the full extent of the theft and what they would really find? He therefore sent people likened to angels whom he trusted would fulfill their mission to perfection. They would undoubtedly return with every particle of stolen goods thereby clearing the Jewish nation from all previous association with Achan's sin.

Radak shares with us a unique perspective on the swift response of the messengers. He explains that their behavior reflected the nation's feeling of relief and joy. The curse had been lifted and the nation was finally cleared of suspicion. Until this point, the stolen items were regarded in the possession of the collective Jewish nation. Now that Achan was discovered, the blame shifted and limited itself to him. The messengers therefore excitedly ran to the tent full of happiness over their removing the theft from amongst the people.

(7:23)

"And they retrieved the items from the tent and brought them to Yehoshua and the entire Jewish nation and spilled them before Hashem."

The messengers presented the stolen items to Yehoshua in the presence of the entire nation. This completed the nation's legal repentance process. They were collectively responsible for the theft and they now collectively returned the stolen items to their owner. They sincerely contemplated their association to this crime and resolved to heighten their sensitivity towards shameful acts such as this. They gazed at the stolen items with serious regret for their social climate which gave rise to Achan's atrocity.

Our Sages teach us that this was their first exposure to collective responsibility and its consequences. Hashem established this responsibility during Moshe's parting days subject to their entry to Eretz Yisroel. Now that they entered they were held severely at fault for Achan's act. Their first fateful experience sent them a clear message which they absorbed very quickly. They resolved from that point that no one would ever feel comfortable and secure to commit such crimes in the privacy of his home. The Jewish people's future environment would include a powerful surveillance system which would focus on this dimension. No crime would ever be buried so deeply amongst the people to require drawing of lots to expose it. The Jewish nation's ethical fiber would include tremendous sensitivity towards the possessions of others and certainly Hashem's treasury.

Rashi quotes our Sages who offer an intriguing interpretation to this passage. They explain that Yehoshua spilled the items before Hashem and exclaimed, "Should the majority of the Jewish supreme court perish because of these?!" These words are difficult to digest because they suggest that Yehoshua challenged Hashem's judgment. The issue at hand was obviously not the sacred treasury's loss of possessions. The Jewish people were faulted for a sinful act which showed tremendous disrespect for Hashem. What then was Yehoshua's objective when making this display?

We can offer the following interpretation to Yehoshua's plea. Hashem judged His entire nation by the highest standard of justice. He took away one of their greatest leaders because of one person's shameful actions. Yehoshua understood that this standard was necessary to establish the severity of collective responsibility. However, Yehoshua pleaded with Hashem to relax His extreme standard of judgment. Yehoshua presented that the Jewish people properly learned their lesson and that their first experience would suffice. After this catastrophe, there would be no tolerance for private crime and any sinner should be held mainly responsible for his own actions. The people were prepared to do their utmost to prevent all atrocious behavior and whatever slipped through their hands should not be judged so severely. In essence, Yehoshua's display was a plea for the future. Now that the people cleaned up their act please do not fault them so severely for any individual's actions. Hashem, please relax your standards and accept their serious attempt to perfect the system. Please do not bring the entire nation major calamity for the relatively small wrongs of an individual.

(7:24)

"And Yehoshua took Achan the son of Zerach and the money, cloak and gold tongue, and his sons and daughters and his oxen, donkeys and sheep, and his tent and all his belongings together with the entire Jewish nation and he brought them up to the Valley of the Ruined."

Achan's sinful behavior jeopardized the entire Jewish nation. His atrocity brought much disdain to Hashem and His people. Now that the Jewish people washed 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 did not want the faintest association with one who trespassed Hashem's ban. They therefore destroyed every one of Achan's possessions permanently detaching themselves from their sinful involvement in this sin.

Achan is identified here as the son of his great grandfather, Zerach rather than the son of his father, Carmi. In light of the above understanding we can explain this in the following manner. We previously learned of the peculiar circumstances that related to Zerach's birth. The Torah reveals that Zerach's hand protruded from his mother's womb followed by the actual birth of his older brother, Peretz. Our Sages saw this as an indication to the tendency of Zerach's offspring's to unlawfully penetrate barriers. This curse lingered over Zerach's family until now when Achan fully exposed this harmful nature. The Jewish people were fed up with this attitude and pledged to remove it from their midst. In effect, the people's horrifying experience cleansed Zerach's family as well. Undoubtedly, Zerach's descendants reached down to the core of their inclinations and rid themselves from such sinful tendencies. Achan was and would remain the singular expression of Zerach's experience and his family could now identify with the qualities of their prominent tribe, Yehuda.

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