5768 - #33


The battle that culminated in the naming of Chamrah can be seen as the first battle in the conquest of Israel. According to Ramban, Bamidbar 21:1, the king of Arad left his land in Israel proper1 to fight a preemptive war against the Jewish nation on the other side of the Jordan.2 This understanding that it was effectively the first of the battles in the conquest of Israel actually explains why Bnei Yisrael dedicated the fruits of this first victory to God. It would be correct, as with other first products, to dedicate the results of this first battle to the service of Hashem.

            It is within this perspective that Chatam Sofer, Torat Moshe, Chukat, d.h. HaCaananei questions why it was thus necessary for Yehoshua to dedicate the spoils of Yericho to God when Moshe Rabbeinu already dedicated that of the first battle with Melech Arad. An implication of the Chatam Sofer’s question, though, is that, if Yericho was not the first battle in the conquest of Israel, it would not have been proper to dedicate the spoils to God. It would seem that, it is not only proper to give the first products to the service of the Divine but, excluding other possible obligations and/or other deemed legitimate reasons, it is proper to give only the first products to the Divine. To paraphrase Kohelet 3:2-8, there is a time to give and a time not to give; a time to sanctify and a time not to sanctify.

            The use of the Hebrew root ch-r-m, used in such words that are translated as destruction, excommunication or dedicated (i.e. separated) for God, perhaps can be seen as indicating this very value. The question is obvious: how can a word representing the sanctification of an object for God also be the root for such negative occurrences as destruction and excommunication?3 This idea, though, may actually reflect the two sides of separation. When something is treated differently, is placed apart from other objects, there are actually two consequences involved in this separation. There are consequences to both sides of the separation.

            Think in terms of a “Do Not Touch” sign. There are two broad reasons for why there may be a sign of this nature. One is to protect the object that is being referred to with this sign. If something is fragile, we may find a sign of this nature beside it in order to protect it from damage from possible inappropriate handling. There is, however, another reason for this sign: to protect the person who may touch this object. A sign in connection to something that is dangerous would be of this nature. Often we will also encounter a “Do Not Touch” that actually considers both consequences.4 Similarly, we may separate between two items for two reasons, each reason focusing on the value and/or consequences to each party of the separation.

            Separating something for God actually is a most strange concept. We can understand, in general, what occurs when we give something to another. We are taking from our resources to

help another who does not have such resources. The other gains as we lose; we effectively show our caring for the other by our willingness to sacrifice our resources for the other’s well being. In the case of God, though, it is not actually possible to benefit Him; we may be willing to sacrifice our resources and to give, but He cannot really benefit. What then are we really doing with this giving? In a sense, if with our giving there is no benefit to the Other, all we are really doing through giving is forgoing the possibility of these resources benefiting us – but since they are now also not available to benefit others, we are effectively destroying their ability to benefit anyone.5

            In separating something for God, we thus are effectively accomplishing two consequences. One is the effect on the one giving; this person is demonstrating a commitment to the Divine by relinquishing resources to God This is the effect of this separation on the person giving; this person acknowledges his/her relationship to the Divine, recognizes God as the Source of the goodness that has been given to him/her and acts in a manner that demonstrates commitment to these ideals. This is a motivation for why we must give our offerings to God.

            The other consequence is, however, somewhat challenging. When giving to another who can benefit from the gift, we can speak of these benefits to the other and how the reasons given above find fulfillment in the benefits given to the other. With God, though, there is no benefit from these offerings. What is effectively being done is that these resources are destroyed without benefit to any other who could possibly have benefited. For all the reasons mentioned above, there are still reasons to give but, with these realizations, there are now reasons to refrain from these gifts to God that ultimately result in the destruction of resources.

            This realization makes us recognize, though, why the Chatam Sofer may have wondered why Yehoshua also offered the spoils to God if Moshe had already offered the first fruits of conquest. The limitations on the effect of resources that come with such offerings must make us reconsider the appropriateness of a sacrifice. This is also part of the Will of God for, as Yoshiyahu 45:18 states l’shevet yetzarah, the world was intended to be populated. It is the Divine wish that we use resources to further our place in this world.6 Our offerings to God make us realize God in this world but we must also recognize what God is expecting from us in this world and use the resources that He has given us wisely with a full knowledge of God’s overall intent.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 See, also, Yehoshua 12:14

2 There is actually some controversy as to whom this person and/or this nation was. T.B. Rosh Hashanah 3a states that the king of Arad was Sichon while Rashi, Bamidbar 21:1 states that this nation was Amalek. What is interesting is how the various commentators move between these differing explanations to develop their understanding of the text and its significance. What they often do not necessarily do, though, is show how these various different understandings come together to meet their definition of what happened.

3 A similar question is asked in regard to the Hebrew root k-d-sh which is the basis of such words as kodesh or holy and kedeisha, or prostitute. How does this word, also a form of expressing separation, become applied to such diverse entities? The answer is found in the underlying meaning of separation inherent in this root.

4 An example may be in the case of the laying of wet cement for a sidewalk. There is the warning to the person walking so that he/she does not get wet cement on his/her shoes. There is also a warning in order to protect the ones who laid the cement so that their work does not go for naught.

5 In actuality, there may be somewhat of a question of whether dedicated funds of this nature, as found in this story, have no use. See, further, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, Emet l’Yaakov, Bamidbar 21:2, d.h. V’Hecharamti but the basic idea expressed here still stands. In the case of idolatry, the sacrifices to the deities were actually perceived as benefiting them. In the case of HaKodesh Baruch Hu, obviously, they are of no benefit to God and, thus, effectively that which is dedicated to God is simply removed from usefulness in this world.

6 It is with this recognition that we can understand the Torah value of balance for we must also be concerned with resources we need to accomplish God’s mission for us.

(c) Nishma, 2008

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