By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“Only through lots shall the Land be apportioned …” (Bamidbar 26:55).
Our Rabbis taught: [When Achan sinned and Yehoshua cast lots and the lot fell on Achan], said [Achan] to [Yehoshua], “Yehoshua, do you convict me by a mere lot? You and Elazar the Priest are the two greatest men of the generation, yet were I to cast lots upon you, the lot will fall on one of you!”
“I beg you,” [Yehoshua] replied, “cast no aspersions on [the efficacy of] lots, for Eretz Yisrael is yet to be divided up by means of lots, as it is written, ‘Only through lots shall the Land be apportioned’” (Sanhedrin 43b, according to the Torah Temimah).
Yehoshua’s Reply Doesn’t Answer The Question
Achan was about to be charged for a severe crime, the reason for the Israelites’ defeat. Instinctively, befitting someone caught red-handed, he tries to elude the charge. At first glance, his claim is strong; the moment lots are cast, they have to fall on someone!
Yehoshua’s reply is somewhat strange — he completely ignores the gist of the claim. Rather, Yehoshua’s reply is directed at Achan’s national conscience — don’t cast aspersions on the lottery system, as this undermines the apportioning of Eretz Yisrael for the nation. According to this beraisa, it doesn’t seem that Yehoshua is giving Achan any reason to believe he will be pardoned upon confession; Yehoshua expects Achan to take responsibility for his sins to avoid harming the entire nation.
Surprisingly, Achan accepts Yehoshua’s answer and confesses immediately: “Indeed, I have sinned against Hashem” (Yehoshua 7:20). Even if we consider the serious blow Achan’s actions dealt to the nation at the war of Ai, the assumption of responsibility — by a person who would not receive any benefit — is awe-inspiring. Achan is in no way identified as a righteous person in Jewish history; nevertheless, his confession deserves admiration and further study.
The Lottery: A Revelation Of G-d’s Will
It seems that Yehoshua understood what Achan was getting at. Achan did not view his act as a heinous crime. He didn’t hurt anyone or publicly rebel against G-d; all he did was take a few items that would otherwise be lost or destroyed. The problem was that his act was against G-d’s will. Achan could not challenge the true accusation against him, but he certainly tried to fight it. Yehoshua, though, beseeches him to accept the greatness of the lottery system. In this way, Yehoshua touches on two points, the first of which we noted above. He calls on Achan to demonstrate national responsibility so as not to undermine the holiness of the lottery, which, in turn, could undermine the apportioning of Eretz Yisrael and compromise national unity.
On a deeper level, the lottery expresses an inner truth, one that human beings cannot tamper with. While a lottery is carried out by the people who cast the lots, it essentially expresses the will of G-d. G-d wills the lots to fall as they do. Here, Yehoshua is telling Achan: “Just as the lottery in apportioning Eretz Yisrael is the expression of G-d’s will, so is this lottery that was cast to implicate you. G-d put you in this situation where you are standing face to face with your sin. Now you have the power to confess and thus express your great faith in G-d and that it is He who put you in this situation, or, alternatively, you can deny your sin and worse — repudiate G-d’s providence.” Even after Achan sinned, here, at least, he passed the test.
Like A Lottery
We often experience similar situations throughout life. At various opportunities we are presented with others’ choices that we feel harm us. Whether these are choices made accidentally or due to corruption, we must fight them. However, sometimes these are decisions that would have seemed completely legitimate had they not been related to us. Since we are involved, though, the personal aspects of the issue leave us feeling bitter. While we don’t have the power to change the decision, we certainly do have the ability to activate our feelings of bitterness.
For instance, someone’s son tried to get into an educational institution and was not accepted. If the rejection was based on a mistake or discrimination, there certainly is room to fight the decision. However, parents can often see that the institution’s decision was logical and legitimate. If we feel that it is possible and proper to fight the decision in a respectful fashion then that is certainly the way to go. Sometimes, it is impossible to fight, so people “make it up to themselves” by feeling embittered. Occasionally, these sentiments are only waiting for the right time to erupt — and then substantial sins can be added to the feelings of embitterment, such as the prohibitions against taking revenge and bearing a grudge. At times, this embitterment can propel people to destroy an entire society; when they channel their embitterment against another person commensurate to their feelings, the danger is certainly a hundredfold.
In this case, it is worthwhile to adopt the conduct that Yehoshua expected of Achan, who, indeed, stepped up to the plate. While the institution’s decision is a human one, G-d is the One who brings about its ramifications. G-d put us in this situation. The Chozeh Mi’Lublin said that whatever happens to a person, even if caused by another person (who has free will), is from G-d alone. As such, feelings of embitterment are superfluous and harmful. In these situations, G-d wants us to rise above our negative feelings and demonstrate faith and responsibility. Faith — that the One Who brought us into this situation is G-d and not a person; responsibility — to understand that even in cases where we were harmed (and we do not have the power to rectify or change the situation), we must not allow our negative sentiments to take over.
HaRav Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today.