"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.
"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
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.
"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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