The sixth chapter of Yehoshua describes Yehoshua’s prophecy of the impending conquest of Yericho: God’s instructions to prepare for the miracle through which Yericho will be captured and the city’s capture in practice. God instructed Yehoshua to encircle the walls of Yericho daily for six days with all “the men of war,” and with the ark and seven Kohanim each carrying a shofar. On the seventh day, they were to encircle the walls seven times, with the Kohanim blowing the shofarot following the seventh circuit, after which the walls would miraculously fall, allowing Israel to capture the city. And so it was. Immediately prior to the conquest of Yericho, Yehoshua instructed that the spoils are to be “devoted” (cḥerem), that is, nothing may be taken. Chazals’ (Our Sages’) tradition [Midrash Tanḥuma, Parashat Naso] is that this instruction was Yehoshua’s, not God’s.
Why was Yericho captured in this miraculous manner, following seven days of preparation? Why was it necessary to have the procession of the men of war and the Kohanim, with the addition of the ark and shofarot? Why was the city not captured in a conventional military manner with Divine assistance?
Why did Yehoshua instruct that the spoils of Yericho not be taken? Why was this instruction appropriate for Israel’s first conquest in the Land? Why did Yehoshua see fit to initiate this instruction?
In order to answer our questions, we must understand the special significance of capturing the city of Yericho.
The Purpose of the Miracle: to Clarify That God Fights on Behalf of Am Yisrael
Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344) offers two reasons for the miraculous conquest of Yericho: the first and major reason is to bolster the fear of Heaven of the Israelites in anticipation of their entry into the Land, that they realize that their success comes from God. Especially as the Israelites prepare to conquer the Land and make the transition from the miracles the nation experienced in the wilderness to a natural life style, there was the need to begin its wars with the clear focus that just as their initial conquest was overtly the result of God’s intervention on behalf of His nation, so too in all subsequent battles, Am Yisrael’s victories will be due to God’s fighting on their behalf. The Israelites must not think that “My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:17] Malbim comments that the reason the ark preceded the men of war in encircling the walls of Yericho was to demonstrate that victory comes from Divine intervention, not from Israel’s military prowess.
To Instill Fear in the Residents of the Land
Ralbag’s second reason is to instill fear of God and of His nation among the nations. Midrash Tanḥuma [Parashat B’ha’alotecha] states: “אמר ר’ שמואל בר נחמני, יריחו היתה נגרה של ארץ ישראל (“נגרה” פירושו מנעולה, כמו מנעול של שער או דלת), אמרו: אם יריחו נכבשת, כל הארץ נכבשת” (“Rabbi Shmuel bar Nacḥmani says “Yericho was the ‘bolt’ of Eretz Yisrael; if Yericho is captured, the entire Land will be captured”). God wanted the nations of the Land to understand that just as Yericho, which was surrounded by formidable walls, was captured with Divine assistance, so too Israel will capture the entire Land with His help, nothing can prevent this. Based upon this, Ralbag explains the unusual nature of the miracle at Yericho; the daily circuits around the walls, the seven circuits on the seventh day and blowing the shofarot, The preparations for the miracle of the conquest of Yericho, as well as the miracle itself were intended to create fear in the hearts of the residents of the Land by demonstrating the wonders which God performs on behalf of His nation.
Dedicating the First to God
Radak applies a concept similar to that of Ralbag to explain Yehoshua’s instruction that no spoils be taken from Yericho. Radak cites the comment of Midrash Tanḥuma [Parashat Naso] that Yehoshua said “Just as with the mitzva of challa we are commanded to dedicate the first portion to God, ‘You are to offer a loaf from your first batch of dough as a contribution…’ [Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:20], so too Yericho, the first conquest in the Land is to be dedicated to God.” Offering cḥalla is an expression of appreciation to God. Offering specifically the first portion one has, attests to the realization that everything one has is from God; one does not benefit from what he has without first thanking God. This is similar to the fact that one recites a blessing before eating anything; it is a reflection of the realization that whatever one has is God’s gift. Thus, Yehoshua saw fit to dedicate the spoils of the first conquest in the Land to God as an expression of awareness that everything comes from Him.
Though God did not command Yehoshua to instruct that no spoils be taken from Yericho, Radak proves that God agreed with him. Chapter seven describes how Achan took spoils from Yericho and God said, “Israel has sinned and they have also transgressed My covenant.” [v.7] God considered Achan’s breach of Yehoshua’s instructions as a sin against His covenant, not merely against Yehoshua.
We, who are privileged to live in the generation of return to Eretz Yisrael, must also strengthen our realization that all the benevolence which we have in the blooming and success of Am Yisrael within the Land comes from God. The economic prosperity, the power of our defenses, the international academic achievements, etc. all result from the abundance God has given us.
Yericho was captured by Am Yisrael miraculously with its walls falling down and Yehoshua dedicated all of its spoils to God. Ralbag suggests two reasons for the great miracle of Yericho’s capture, the first being to instill within the Israelites awareness that God fights on their behalf in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, and that all of Am Yisrael’s victories are due to Him; the second reason is to instill fear in the hearts of the residents of the Land by demonstrating to them God’s awesome power. Radak explains that Yehoshua’s dedication of the spoils of Yericho to God is, similar to the mitzva of cḥalla, an expression of appreciation and thanks to God, awareness that whatever we have is God’s gift.
Our generation, which is blessed with great success and bounty within Eretz Yisrael, in technology, diplomacy, economics and in virtually every area, must realize that everything has been given us by God. Our successes do not come from our own abilities, but from the fact that God Himself continuously looks after His nation. He has returned His Shechina to Zion and has brought us home in the generation of redemption. Through this realization, we will merit the complete and final redemption speedily in our days. Amen.