Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Not Such a Little Theft

The entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land is a fairly well-known narrative. It began with the miraculous battle of Jericho, which ended victoriously when the walls came crashing down (click here for more details). Far less famous, however, is the second battle fought by the Israelites in the Land of Canaan.

After the victory at Jericho and a quick scouting of the city of Ai, the Israelites presumed that they faced an easy victory. In fact, they decided to send only a small force, assuming that, just as at Jericho, God was with them. Only He wasn’t.

Before the Battle of Jericho, the Israelites were given a few specific instructions, most importantly: “You must beware of that which is forbidden , or else you will be accursed. If you take anything from that which is forbidden, you will cause the camp of Israel to be accursed, you will bring calamity upon it” (Joshua 6:18).

Fearful of the punishment, all the Israelites refrained from touching the booty of Jericho. All but one.

The first battle of Ai ended in defeat. Distressed by the outcome, Joshua resorted to a lottery for Divine guidance to determine who had sinned. The outcome identified Achan the son of Carmi from the Tribe of Judah as the violator. Achan admitted that he had taken the booty and had buried it beneath his tent. Achan and all those who knew of the hidden valuables were executed by stoning. Shortly thereafter, the Israelites captured Ai.

Achan’s story is tragic. One moment of greed led not only to the violators’ death, but to the death of the innocent soldiers who went into battle at Ai.

However, Jewish tradition relates that, before his death, Achan repented. His words of teshuva (repentance) were recorded and are found in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer (which begins Al Kein Nekaveh an acrostic of Achan’s name) that is recited at the conclusion of each of the three daily prayer services. (Click here for the words).

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