Yehoshua Pereq #8
The second time around, Yehoshua is commanded by Hashem to attack Ha-Ai instead of initiating the battle on his own. He approaches the battle with creative strategy, capitalizing on the fact that the Jews were defeated in the first conflict. Two ambushing parties were positioned to the west of the city, one of thirty thousand men and one of five thousand men, while a third group led personally by Yehoshua would march against the city through the valley directly opposite its gates. When the people of Ha-Ai emerged to fight against the Jews, Yehoshua and his men planned to flee as if they were suffering defeat once again, further luring the enemy out of the protective walls of their city and leaving it exposed. Finally, while the citizens of Ha-Ai were distracted by the prospect of thoroughly routing the Jewish army, the ambushing group was instructed to enter and capture the city.
The plan worked perfectly; every man in Ha-Ai and Bet El chased after Yehoshua’s seemingly vulnerable group and left the city defenseless. Hashem commands Yehoshua to lift up his spear, signaling the ambushing party to conquer the city and set it aflame, and he keeps his spear aloft until the battle has concluded. The soldiers of Ha-Ai look behind them and, noticing smoke billowing up from their city, realize that they have been fooled and suddenly find themselves caught between Yehoshua’s men on one side and the ambushing party on the other.
The inhabitants of Ha-Ai are killed and its king captured and hung from a tree; however, in fulfilment of the mitzvah not to leave a dead body exposed, the corpse is removed at sunset and buried beneath a pile of stones. Ha-Ai was completely destroyed and rendered a mound of rubble, but the Jews were permitted to enjoy the spoils of war, including the cattle and other material goods they found during the battle. Since this was an attack they conducted utilizing their own strategy and manpower and was not a miraculous intervention, they were indeed entitled to claim the benefits of victory.
The chapter concludes with a description of how Yehoshua led the Jews to Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval to build an altar, offer sacrifices, write the entire Torah on large stones, and pronounce the blessings and curses upon the nation, all as Hashem expressly commanded Moshe in Devarim chapter 27. Just as the Jews had previously reenacted the experience of Passover, this served as a virtual reenactment of the receiving of the Torah – it was an affirmation of the covenant at Sinai. One of the critical questions raised by the commentaries is why they delayed the fulfillment of this commandment for so long – after all, the Torah states that these rituals must be conducted on the day that the people of Israel enter their land, and it has clearly been a while since they arrived! Rashi argues that the Book of Yehoshua is not written in chronological order and that these events actually occurred on the day they crossed the Jordan River.
Of course, this only partially solves the problem, since even if we accept Rashi’s interpretation we still must explain WHY it is recorded here and not beforehand. I would suggest that perhaps the Jews were not considered to have truly “entered the land” until they conducted a battle where they actually could lay claim to the territory and the spoils that they acquired in war. Yeriho didn’t become “their” conquest because it was totally devoted to Hashem; this time, however, they could genuinely see themselves as having inherited a portion of their new homeland. So whether the ceremony at Mt. Eval and Mt. Gerizim occurred right after they crossed the Jordan River or was indeed delayed until after the battle of Ha-Ai, the explanation is the same – it was only after the second military campaign, which they won on their own merit by virtue of intelligent strategy and real manpower, that they could be said to have “arrived” in the Land of Israel.