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Fast Days: Joshua Chapter 7: Too Preoccupied to Eat

1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass concerning the devoted thing; for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the devoted thing; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel. {S} 2 And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el, and spoke unto them, saying: ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him: ‘Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to toil thither; for they are but few.’ 4 So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men; and they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men; and they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them at the descent; and the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.


6 And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads. 7 And Joshua said: ‘Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over the Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to cause us to perish? would that we had been content and dwelt beyond the Jordan! 8 Oh, Lord, what shall I say, after that Israel hath turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For when the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of it, they will compass us round, and cut off our name from the earth; and what wilt Thou do for Thy great name?’

10 And the LORD said unto Joshua: ‘Get thee up; wherefore, now, art thou fallen upon thy face? 11 Israel hath sinned; yea, they have even transgressed My covenant which I commanded them; yea, they have even taken of the devoted thing; and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have even put it among their own stuff. 12 Therefore the children of Israel cannot stand before their enemies, they turn their backs before their enemies, because they are become accursed; I will not be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. 13 Up, sanctify the people, and say: Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow; for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: There is a curse in the midst of thee, O Israel; thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.”


I. Bereishit Rabbah 84:19:

Joseph caused the tribes to tear their clothes, as it says, “And they tore their clothes (Genesis 45:13),” therefore his descendant stood and repaid the tearing, as it says, “And Joshua rent his clothes.”

How does the Midrash know that Joshua, a descendant of Joseph tore his clothes to repay the tearing caused by Joseph, when there are many other examples in the Bible of leaders tearing their clothes? Perhaps Joshua tore his clothes without considering Joseph?

II. Bereishit Rabbah 39:24:

Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua said, “They began to mention the merit of the Patriarch Abraham who said, “I am dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).” Did Abraham build an Altar in Ai other than so that his children should not fall there?” The Talmud comments: RabbiElazar said: One should always offer up prayer before misfortune comes; for had not Abraham anticipated trouble by prayer between Beth-el and Ai, there would not have remained of Israel’s sinners a remnant or a survivor (Sanhedrin 44b).

Why did Joshua and the Children of Israel not consider Abraham’s Altar in Ai before they approached for battle?

III. Zohar Bamidbar 120b:

“Falling on the face is an expression of commitment to give up one’s life for God; a statement that we are willing to fall into the grave.”

  1. Zohar Mishpatim 105a:

“There will never be total destruction of the Children of Israel, for if Heaven forfend the Children of Israel were wiped out, His Great Name will not be. This is the intention  of Joshua when he says, “What will You do for Your great name?” It is for this we pray when we are in exile in our synagogues that the Holy One, Blessed is He, redeem us from exile and then His great Name will expand and be sanctified; “Yitgadal v’yitkadesh shemei rabbah!”

V. Da’at Soferim: Joshua:

Joshua immediately understood that the defeat at Ai was because God had withdrawn His Presence from the nation. He fell on his face in prayer to understand why, but his prayers were not answered; a further indication that God had withdrawn His Presence. They placed ashes on their heads in mourning, not over those who had died, but over the danger of living without God’s Presence.


I include this story as a Fast Day, although Joshua did not officially declare a fast, because they were so occupied in prayer, falling on their faces, and mourning until evening, that they had no time to fast. They fasted because they were consumed with the situation, understanding the reasons, and attempting to repair.

One person, Achan, sinned, and yet all of Israel bore the consequences. This was the opposite of the brothers tearing Joseph’s coat, severing the connection between all the tribes, and the same as when the brothers tore their clothes in mourning over the damage they had caused by selling Joseph. When Joseph pushed the brothers until they were so desperate that they tore their clothes, he was pushing them to repair the seams they had torn; to reconnect all of Israel.

Israel connected lives the promise that Israel will never be totally wiped out. It is Israel connected that reflects Yitgadal v’Yitkadash Shemei Rabbah. It is Israel that willingly gives up its life for God that merits His Presence. It is Israel, so connected, that bears the consequences of an individual’s sin affecting the entire nation. It is the power of the individual, Abraham, which planted the seeds of Israel, and could pray for Israel in Ai generations before the battle. It was only Israel so connected that could appreciate the power of Abraham and his prayers.

This was a fast that happened because Joshua and the people were preoccupied with connecting to the idea of a Whole Israel, connected to each other and to their history, past and future. They were so involved in these connections that they did not eat.

Fasting can be powerful even if an indirect result of something else; focusing on understanding, connecting, praying and repairing, that we do not even think of eating.


Rather than focus on fasting immediately in the morning, focus on being busy with prayer, (emphasizing,“bichol nafshecha,” give up our life for God & paying careful attention to Kaddish; Yitgadal v’Yitkadash, & falling on the face for Tachanun), performing acts of Chesed, repairing severed or damaged relationships, working for the community, and Sanctifying God’s Name.

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