The first city that the Bnei Yisroel would have to capture was the city of Yericho which also known as the City of Palms on account of the many tall and majestic palm trees that grew there. It as a very strong and fortified city surrounded by massive walls and was protected by the best and strongest armies the Canaani could put together. Its gates were securely bolted shut so that no one could leave or enter the city.
gave Yehoshuah specific instructions as to what he must do to capture it.
Yehoshua’s esteem had been greatly strengthened in the eyes of all the people who had witnessed the splitting of the Yarden and they all stood ready to follows everything he said.
“Everyone is to walk around the walls of Yericho every day. Seven Kohanim are to lead the march each one blowing the shofer. Following them should be the Aaron of Hashem. On the seventh day of Shabbos, everyone is to march around the city seven times. When the march is completed, the Kohanim are to blow one long tekia sound and all others who have a shofar should blow a teruah sound. At that point you will all witness another great miracle. The walls of the city will come tumbling down and the city will be ours without a single shot being fired.
The march around the city of Yericho began with the tribes of Reuvainm Gad and Menashe leading the way. They were followed by seven Kohanim blowing a shofar. Following them were the Kohanim carrying the Aron and then came the rest of the shevotim with shevet Don as always, going last.
Marching around the entire city of Yericho wasn’t an easy task. It was hot and exhausting. On top of the walls the Canaani soldiers stood and looked down to see what was happening. They probably thought that the Jews were trying to find an opening in the wall through which they could launch their attack. They probably stood there laughing at these unarmed people marching around their wall without any success. The next day they repeated the same thing once again.
That night, as Yehoshuah was walking around to check things out he was suddenly startled to see a giant of a man coming toward him with an outstretched sword ready to kill him. “Identify yourself,” he cried out. “Are you friend or foe?”
The mysterious stranger replied that he was the general of Hashem’s army- a heavenly angel that had been sent to kill him.
“What have I done wrong?” Yehoshuah asked in great shock knowing he had fulfilled Hashem’s word exactly.
“Yesterday you failed to bring the Korban Tomid and today you failed to set aside time for Torah study,” was the angel’s reply.
Yehoshuah could easily have given him the perfect excuse. They had a very difficult day marching around the city of Yericho and everyone was exhausted. But he knew better than that. Torah learning takes precedence over all else and there could be no good excuse to miss a day of Torah learning. Instead of replying, Yehoshuah immediately sat down and became learning Torah with the people despite their great exhaustion.
The angel put his sword back into its sheath and disappeared. Someone learning Torah is protected even from the angel of death. It had been a close call but Yehoshuah learned his lesson quickly. One could not enter the holy land without the Torah being at his constant side.
Finally the seventh day of Shabbos came and this day would be the most difficult march of all. Today they would have to march around the city a total of seven times in all. They wondered how they’d ever make it and what would happen after the seventh time. The Canaani soldiers standing guard on top of the wall were probably laughing their heads off as they peered down at them, watching them drag their tired bodies another foot. The whole thing seemed to be some strange ritual that would never get them anyplace. They stood there wondering what this was all about.
Then, suddenly, they heard the loud piercing sound of the shofar followed by a strange rumbling sound as the walls began to shake violently. If felt like an earthquake had given the mighty walls a strong powerful shake and the next thing they knew was the enemy army falling off the wall and being crushed under the enormous weight of the huge stones. There was screaming and shouting coming from everywhere. The Bnei Yisroel looked on in utter amazement as their enemies were being crushed to death without them lifting a finger.
Yehoshuah now told the people that all the gold and silver as well as the rest of the bounty they would find is the property of hekdesh and no one can take anything for himself. It is exclusively dedicated for holy use. He also told them that under no circumstances should the walls of this city ever be rebuilt. It must remain in ruins forever. He put a curse on anyone that will ever dare to rebuild them. “His oldest son will die when he puts up the foundation and his youngest son will die when he puts up its gates,” he warned them. Everyone visiting the city would see the giant boulders lying upon the ground and be reminded of the great miracle that once took place there.
Unfortunately, there was one person by the name of Ochon the son of Karmi from Shevet Shimon who let his Yetzer Horah get the best of him. He saw a beautiful garment which he just fell in love with and didn’t want to give up. “What’s the big deal if I take this for myself,” he must have thought to himself. Certainly hekdesh has plenty and wouldn’t miss this one coat he probably rationalized. He quickly took it and buried it in his tent. His family probably saw what he was doing but turned a blind eye. It’s none of our business, they probably said to themselves. I don’t have to squeal. Beside, it may even be loshon horah, so I’d better keep my mouth shut. Little did he realize that he had not only harmed himself but had put all of Klal Yisroel into jeopardy. Since the Yidden had crossed the Yarden they had become responsible for one another. This meant that anyone who saw someone committing a sin had to do his best to prevent him and couldn’t remain complacent and just shrug his shoulders and walk away. Kol Yisroel arevim zeh lozeh. We all are responsible for one another. We’re all in the very same boat. If someone makes a hole in the ship not only will he sink, but the entire boat is in danger of sinking. It’s not every man for himself anymore. It’s all for one and one for all. We’re all like limbs of the very same body. The punishment would be quick in coming.
The next city the Yidden had to capture was the city named “Ai.” It was a small city in comparison to Yericho which was the mightiest in the country and the Yidden were sure they could take it with little effort. Instead of sending the entire army, it was decided to send a small contingent of only three thousand soldiers. Even this was considered more than enough. However, they were in for a real shocker. The army stationed in Ai easily defeated the Jewish army killing 36 heads of Sanhedrin in the process. Others say that they killed Yair the son of Menashe who was one of the leading Torah sages of the time and a member of the Sanhedrin. Upon hearing the tragic news, the yidden were devastated. Yehoshua tore his clothes and fell upon the floor in front of the Aron in great shame. He simply couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. Why, after seeing so many great miracles, had Hashem suddenly abandoned them? He poured out his heart to Hashem hoping to receive a reply. The answer was quick in coming.
“Get off the floor and stop your prayers,” was Hashem’s reply. “Someone has transgressed the cherem and taken some of the bounty of the city for himself.”
Even the misbehavior of one Jew could be devastating. “Who was this mysterious someone?” he wondered to himself.
He looked at the names on the urim v’tumim and saw at once that the name Yehuda didn’t glow and shine as did the others and therefore suspected that the sinner was someone from that Shevet. He decided to proceed through the use of lots. This is the way the land had been divided among the tribes and is certainly to be taken as a sign from heaven and not just pot-luck as some people seem to think.
He now wrote the names of the heads of the family of Yehuda and cast a lot. The name Zerach was chosen. Next he wrote down the names of the family of Zerach and the name Zavdi was picked. He now wrote down the individual names of each of Zavdi’s children and sure enough the name Ochan appeared.
Ochon tried to deny his guilt and tried to attack the method used to indict him. Lot’s are meaningless, went his argument. They’re nothing put pot luck. He was so convincing that his tribe of Yehuda took his side and believed he was telling the truth. They stood at his side and were even ready to go to war to protect the good reputation of their Shevet. Yet, as he tried to move away from the Aron he felt that he couldn’t move.
My dear child said Yehoshuah to him. “Give honor to G-d and admit your guilt so that you only get your punishment in this world.” Yehoshua explained to him the great power of teshuva until finally Ochan broke down and began to cry. He didn’t want his sin to cause a civil war among the Yidden. He now spilled out everything. He even admitted to having stolen many times before during the days of Moshe. He admitted taking a beautiful royal robe along with 200 silver shekel and a bar of gold which he had found in the palace of one of the kings which he had looted.
“The temptation was far too great and I just wasn’t able to overcome the burning temptation,” he explained in bitter tears.
He admitted to having buried it all in his tent.
Yehoshuah immediately dispatched messengers to retrieve the booty which was found completely intact. He wanted to make sure that none of his friends from the tribe of Yehuda destroy the evidence.
As Ochon was being led to his death, Yehoshuah consoled him by telling him that while he had to suffer in this world for the terrible sin he had committed, he would at least have a share in the World-to-Come, since the gates of teshuva are never closed. Ochon was stoned to death and his family and all his animals and possessions were burned. He had violated the Shabbos and caused the death of thirty six people that fell in the battle for the city of Ai. A large heap of stones were put up on that spot as a reminder of how even the sins of one person can put all the yidden into jeopardy, and that we are not permitted to remain silent when we see others desecrate the Torah and are obligated to stop them.
now gave Yehoshuah explicit instruction on how he was to capture the city of Ai. This time he was to do to the king just as he had done to the King of Yericho but he must allow the people to take all the booty for themselves and not consecrate it. Hashem also told Yehoshuah how to lay ambush to the city and capture it.
Yehoshuah now instructed the yidden of the plan. 30,000 soldiers were to go ahead during the night and hide close to the city of Ai. I will now approach the city with the remaining army. As soon as they see us they will certainly go on the offense and try to attack us. We’ll pretend to be afraid and start running back. They will certainly give chase thinking that we are trying to flee. When you see me waving my spear, it’s a signal for you to enter and set the entire city on fire and kill its remaining inhabitants.
That night, Yehoshuah spent deeply engrossed in Torah study. He knew that without Torah the plan would not succeed.
The next morning, Yehoshuah sent another five thousand soldiers to set up an ambush toward the other side of the city. When the king of Ai saw the Jewish army approach, he immediately ordered his army to give chase. The Jews made a quick about face and began running away giving the impression that they were afraid to fight. The army of Ai chased after them with great speed believing that they could easily defeat them. Little did they realize that this was all a trap.
now commanded Yehoshuah to raise his spear into the air as a sign that Hashem will lead them to victory and as a signal to those who had been in hiding to begin their attack. Those waiting in ambush immediately rushed into the city and set the entire city ablaze while at the same time also plundering all its valuables. They met absolutely no resistance since everyone was busy chasing the Jewish army who were seemingly fleeing for their lives. Suddenly they all stopped in their tracks as they saw giant flames licking the sky and large pillows of smoke coming from their city whose gates they had left open. They now realized that something was amiss. Yehoshuah and his army made a quick about face as the enemy now ran for their lives. But it was too late. They were now being attacked from both sides and there was no escape. The Jews now wiped them out killing ever last man, woman, and child. They also succeeded in capturing their king alive and brought him to Yehoshuah who had kept his spear in the air until the very end of the battle. They had killed a total of 12,000 people on that day without suffering a single loss. They hung the King of Iy on a very tall tree for all to see, but took down his body toward evening as the Torah commands. They threw his remains down at the gate of the city and piled upon it a large heap of stones.
It was then that Yehoshuah built a Mizbeach on top of Mount Aival, a mizbech that has now been discovered in some archeological digs that have been done at that sight.