“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 andbrought them up to the Valley of the Ruined.”
This lengthy passage places great value on detail repeating the entire listof stolen items and listing individually Achan’s possessions and familymembers. This suggests that the upcoming experience played a prominentrole in shaping the Jewish nation’s character in their new land. Achan’sexecution served as a lesson for all subsequent generations regardingconquest and possession. Henceforth, the Jewish people would alwaysremember that Hashem leads their battles and that all spoils they win inwar are but a gift from Hashem.
One specific point is the order of the stolen items which is reversed fromthe previous one. Achan stressed the stolen cloak and mentioned thestolen money as a secondary offense whereas this passage mentions the moneyas the lead stolen item. We can explain this difference in the followingmanner. The previous passages related to Achan’s confession which focusedon the source of his sin being his coveting nature. He therefore confessedthat his main desire was to obtain the royal Babylonian cloak but havingnoticed the money he brought it along. This passage relates to the Jewishpeople’s response to Achan’s sin. They focused on the severity of the sinwhich was epitomized by the totally unjustified theft of unnecessary money. The entire nation participated in Achan’s execution in order to cleansethemselves from their initial laxity towards theft. In this context thestolen money was, in fact, the most disturbing aspect of all.
The passage continues and lists the individual types of animals owned byAchan rather than referring to them in ne collective sense. Apparently,these animals identified with Achan as more than mere possessions. Theoxen were his work tools, the donkeys his carriers and the sheep his woolproviders. Each of these had a significant involvment in Achan’s lifewhose memory was now being totally erased. Executing Achan himselftherefore included stoning his animals which strongly associated andidentified with him.
“And Yehoshua said, ‘How you ruined us, so shall Hashem ruin you today,’and all of Israel stoned Achan, burned them and stoned them.”
Rashi explains the three stages of this execution. Achan was stoned, hispossessions were burned and his animals were subsequently stoned. Rashiquotes our Sages who question why Achan was stoned. We previously learnedthat Hashem prescribed burning as the consequence for this violation, notstoning. They answer that Achan’s theft transpired on Shabbos and he waspunished for violating the Shabbos which is punishable by being stoned.Rashi displays earlier how careful analysis of the previous passage revealsthat a second consequence was in line. However, this point is mysteriouslyconcealed until now when it is subtly revealed in the resolution of theabove discrepancy.
We can develop this problem with the following insight. Our Sages teach usthat Achan’s execution did not follow standard judicial procedure. AJewish court can not execute a criminal without prior warning of theconsequences of his action and without reliable objective testimony.Neither of these existed in Achan’s situation. Hashem declared it anexception to the rule in order to cleanse the Jewish people from any traceof theft. The violation of Shabbos, however, was not the focal point ofthis lesson and should have seemingly followed standard procedure. Why thenwere the Jewish people involved in this aspect as well?
We can suggest that Achan’s Shabbos violation stemmed from his pervertedperspective on life. We previously learned that Yehoshua declaredYericho’s ban because it was captured on Shabbos. He reasoned that theresults of Shabbos – Hashem’s day – belonged solely to Hashem. Shabbosattests to the fact that Hashem owns and runs the world. He restricts usfrom all productive activity on that day thereby reminding us that He, intruth, is at the core of all production. This lesson was concurrent withYericho’s conquest which displayed Hashem at the source of all conquest.Yehoshua sought to crystallize this message and banned all of Shabbos’results in this war. Achan apparently disregarde both of these messagesand violated Shabbos and the ban that exopressed Shabbos’ message in full.
We can suggest that the Shabbos dimension was omitted until now because itwas not the focal point of the Jewish people’s fault. However, in acertain context, Shabbos did relate to things because of its concurrentmessage with the ban. Our Sages teach us that Achan voluntered theinformation and confessed that he trespassed the ban on Shabbos. Achan,apparently searched for the root of his problem and discovered that hisShabbos attitude was much a part of things. He therefore confessed hislack of appreciation for Shabbos’ message which allowed him to develop hisperverted perspective. Now that Achan identified this dimension it becamepart of the Jewish people’s cleansing process. In addition to executingAchan for his atrocity the people addressed the cause of his crime, hislaxity towards Shabbos. Stoning Achan helped the nation remove themselvesfrom every aspect of his offense. They publicly denounced his act and eventhe attitude which led to his offense. They vowed never again toleratesuch behavior or anything which could remotely lead to it.
“And they erected upon him a huge heap until today and Hashem returned fromHis wrath; he therefore named this place Valley of the Ruined until today.”
This passage seems to follow a peculiar order because Hashem’s return fromwrath is mentioned in the midst of describing the Valley of the Ruined.Why didn’t the passage finish Achan’s episode and then conclude withHashem’s return from wrath?
We learn from here that the heap itself contributed to Hashem’s return fromwrath. Although the Jewish people responded properly and totally releasedthemselves from Achan’s crime what would secure that such atrocities notrepeat themselves? Who would guarantee that this lax attitude would notresurface amongst the people? The answer to this was this heap of stones.Achan’s execution was carved on the walls of the land never to beforgotten. The huge heap told the entire story of collectiveresponsibility and trespassing a ban. This landmark guaranteed that theJewish people would never allow this attitude to resurface amongst them.Now that the heap was erected and security measures were taken Hashem’strust returned to His people and His wrath was totally removed from them.
Subscribe to Yehoshua Reflections and receive the weekly class via e-mail.