“And Hashem said to Yehoshua, ‘Rise to yourself, why are you falling on your face?'”
One final word on Hashem’s introductory statement. Rashi quotes our Sages who explain that Hashem responded that He never ordered the ban on Yericho’s spoils; Yehoshua did. Again, we find Yehoshua faulted for Achan’s atrocity. What difference does it make who ordered the ban? The fact remains that the items belonged to Hashem, and no one was permitted to possess them.
With the benefit of our previous insight, we can gain understanding into Hashem’s response. As we explained, the Jewish people had a slight misconception regarding their role in the war of conquest. Although they physically fought the war, Hashem was truly responsible for their victory. Initially, Yehoshua sought to demonstrate this by placing a ban on the spoils of Yericho. Our Sages explain that his rationale was that the results of a war won on Shabbos, a day of sanctity, should be dedicated to sanctity. This perspective was certainly clear to everyone when reflecting on the toppling of Yericho’s fortified walls. But the war also involved physical combat, and in that area the Jewish warriors could receive credit. Although this dimension was greatly outweighed by Hashem’s miraculous involvement in every facet of the war, the people did play a minuscule role in things. Apparently, Yehosha saw things in their purest perspective and did not feel it necessary to address this need. His was preoccupied with the greater concern of sanctifying Hashem’s name and bringing Him proper recognition. But the truth was that the Jewish people were not prepared to see things Yehoshua’s way. Hashem therefore admonished Yehoshua for failing to understand the people’s limitations which ultimately gave rise to their threatening situation.
“The Jewish people sinned, violated the covenant which I commanded them, trespassed the ban, stole, denied and hid in vessels.”
Achan’s grave act was a multi-faceted offense. He violated the prophet Yehoshua’s ban, profaned Hashem’s sacred treasury, stole, concealed his act, and eventually denied his crime. This atrocity caused the Jewish nation’s defeat at Ay which threatened their entire existence thereafter. However, we take note of the fact that Achan committed his offense in secrecy and did not allow it much exposure. If so, why was the entire nation blamed for an act unknown to them? Our Sages (see Mesichta Sanhedrin 43b) raise this issue and explain that Achan’s wife and children were aware of his crime. Although their knowledge did give some exposure to the act, it doesn’t amply explain Hashem’s harsh response. The Jewish people as a whole were not party to the act and didn’t know of it to condone it. The next passage however reveals one more dimension of things and completes the picture.
“And the Jewish people will not be able to rise before their enemies; they will turn their necks in front of their enemies because they are condemned. I won’t continue being with you unless you obliterate the ban from your midst.”
Hashem condemned the entire nation and threatened to abandon them unless they remove the stolen items from their midst. These awesome words leave us speechless! Why did Hashem go so far as to threaten and even condemn His people over this act. Couldn’t He simply demand them to release the stolen possessions and restore them to His treasury? Was there room for concern that the people wouldn’t respond favorably to this command?!
We begin to sense that Achan’s silent crime remotely reflected a severe mar in the Jewish nation’s character. When considering the matter, we realize that his willingness to commit this atrocity reflected acceptance by his brethren even after his felony. Once he confided in his family, he understood that he risked discovery, yet this didn’t seem to concern him. He must have rationalized that his brethren would sympathize with him and somehow condone his outrageous behavior. What basis could there have been for this?
Our Sages enlighten us with a profound statement regarding this ban (seeYalkut Shimoni 18). They include Yericho’s ban in the rare situations where a Jewish leader instituted a decree without Heavenly direction, yet Hashem sanctioned his act. Apparently, there was room to question the authority of Yericho’s ban because, in truth, Hashem never ordered it. Achan’s real offense was to Yehoshua’s authority; Yehoshua who occupied a dual status of prophet and king. Incidentally, this explains the order of Hashem’s list of offenses, beginning with Achan’s disobeying a prophet. We now understand that this was the crux of the problem, and in this area Achan expected to receive a vote of sympathy. In reality he wasn’t far from the mark because, as we have learned, there was a faint error in the Jewish people’s phsyche. The Jewish people did, to some degree, believe that they were responsible for their victories. Although Achan carried this way out of proportion, there was room, from their perspective, for some tolerance of his philosophy.
The picture is now complete. The Jewish people certainly did not identify, in the slightest way, with acts of theft or trespassing Hashem’s treasury. However, there was room for reservation regarding the full severity of Achan’s crime. Therefore, Hashem, gave clarity to the situation and explained, in no uncertain terms, the severity of the situation. The Jewish people harbored a misconception which required immediate attention. Achan’s atrocity was the result of numerous factors, the greatest of them being Achan’s criminal and liberal attitude. However, the Jewish people required a re-alignment for their misconception and its vote of confidence which allowed for Achan to commit his serious offense. And in that light even Yehoshua accepted a degree of responsibility for overrating the people and permitting this problem to fester amongst them. Once the Jewish people would actively involve themselves in removing the stolen items, they would regain their perfect status in Hashem’s eyes, and He would continue assisting them in the war of conquest.
The lesson for us is somewhat obvious. There are many serious violations of Hashem’s Torah that we wouldn’t dream of doing. However, our friends and sphere of influence don’t seem to be uncomfortable doing them in our presence or with our knowledge. We should consider expressing our true feelings over their outrageous behavior. Who can assess the degree of endorsement we give them through our silence? Perhaps, they would reconsider their actions if they knew how unacceptable they were to us!
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