Chukas – Hiring is Always Better Than Looking For Volunteers

As the Jewish People were making their way towards the Land of Canaan at the end of the forty years of wandering in the desert they approached the land of Sichon, the King of Emori.  They sentmessengers requesting to walk peacefully through his land. Sichon refused, gathered his whole nation to attack them, and was annihilated. The Jewish people conquered his land from Arnon to Yabok, as far as the boarder of Ammon (See Bamidbar 21:21-24).
Rashi in pasuk 22 points out that although they were not commanded to offer peace, they nevertheless made the proposal. The Gur Aryeh, which is the Mahara”l’s commentary on Chumash Rashi, explains that the Torah requires the complete annihilation of the Canaanite nations who dwelt in the Land of Israel (Devarim 20:16, 17); yet they proposed peace at this juncture because the requirement only applies when they are in the midst of battle to conquer the land. Here, they only wished to pass through the Emori territory in order to cross the Jordan River. They could have taken the passage by force, but they instead chose to ask permission.

Rashi in verse 23 says that Sichon declined the overtures of peace, as all the Canaani nations paid taxes to him, to protect them from armies passing through his land to wage war against them. When the Jewish People said to him: “Let us pass through your land,” he replied: “My very presence here is to protect them from you and you say this?” The Gur Aryeh observes that earlier the Edomi, who were not paid to protect Canaan, also refused the Jewish People passage (20:18-21). Yet Rashi attributes Sichon’s refusal to the protection payment. What was the difference? The answer is that the Edomi request was based on brotherhood (20:14), thus assuring Edom that the Jews would not wage war if they refused, since they were distant cousins. Sichon certainly understood that his refusal would be met with an attack, yet he accepted the consequence of warfare, because he had been paid to do so. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Sichon, King of the Emori, refused to allow the Jewish people safe passage through his land even though they promised “we will not turn aside into the fields and vineyards, we will not drink well water; we will go by the king’s road until we have passed through your territory” (pasuk 22). Surely he knew the might of the Jewish People and Hashem, the miracles that took place against the Egyptians and Amalek, and that to put up a fight would be useless and very dangerous. Yet, because he was charged to defend the Canaani nations against enemies, he stood up for that cause and even gathered all of his warriors to offensively attack the Jewish Nation.

What was his motivation? Rashi goes out of his way to point out he was being paid to defend the Canaani nations. It would seem, therefore, that if they had not been paid and only treaty or agreement to protect each other had been in place, he would have succumbed to the request of the Jews to peacefully travel through his land (in order to not face guaranteed conquest, which is what, in fact, happened). Yet, because he was paid to defend them, he decided to attack the Jewish people, which was his ultimate downfall. Why did he choose this route, with its guarantee of failure?

I heard firsthand from my Rosh HaYeshiva ztk”l, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, that it is better to hire people to work for you than to find volunteers, because paid workers feel more of a responsibility to get the job done correctly.

This is what Rashi is pointing out in this situation. Because Sichon was being paid, he essentially had a duty to defend the other nations, and he felt a responsibility to live up to this expectation. Although this was ultimately his downfall, the power of money is a fact and can be used in a positive way throughout our lives. Organizations and businesses run better with paid workers. Institutions and schools are more organized and professional with hired help. Even household needs are met more efficiently with hired help, most of the time.

Money, in a positive sense, brings with it a sense of responsibility which potentially could get a lot of good done in the world, if used wisely.