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Pinchas"Only by lot shall the Land be divided, according to the names of their fathers' tribes shall they inherit. According to the lot shall one's inheritance be divided, between the numerous and the few" (Bemidbar 26:55-56).
The Land of Israel was divided among the Twelve Tribes by means of lots. When Yehoshua lost the Battle of Ei, he knew that it must have been due to some sin the people had committed, causing Hashem to abandon their midst; for no one could ever defeat them when the Almighty was at their side. Sure enough, Hashem told him that someone had taken from the forbidden spoils of Yericho and that He would not return to help them until the sinner had been punished. However, Hashem did not reveal who the guilty party was and Yehoshua had to find out for himself.
Using lots among all of Israel, Yehoshua discovered that the transgressor was Achan, of the tripe of Yehudah. But Achan began to ridicule him and said, "Yehoshua, you are accusing me using lots? You and Elazar HaKohein are the two greatest of the generation, if I draw lots between the two of you it will come out on one of you!"
Yehoshua answered him, "I beg of you, do not defame the system of lots because the Land of Israel is going to be divided through it."
Finally, Achan admitted his sin publicly and said, "Indeed I have sinned against Hashem, G-d of Israel, and thus and thus have I done" (Yehoshua 7:20).
Actually, lots, when done properly, are a type of communication between Hashem and Israel. Just like Hashem spoke to His prophets and delivered messages to us through them, so He has other means of transmission. Sometimes He used the Urim Vetumim, the breastplate of the Kohein Gadol (the High Priest) and caused the letters on the stones to light up and spell out the message. And sometimes Hashem spoke to us by means of the bas kol - a Heavenly echo which is heard by those holy enough to receive that transmission.
Today, due to our sins, we no longer have Prophecy, nor the Urim Vetumim nor the bas kol. Yet there is a type of lots which still works. It was revealed by the great Gaon of Vilna and is known by the acronym of his name as the Goral HaGra - the lot of the Gaon, Rabi Eliyahu. It is executed by means of opening a special type of Tanach (the entire Bible) randomly and then finding a passage according to a specific system. That passage, if interpreted properly, will answer the question which was asked. Sometimes it is more difficult to interpret the passage, but sometimes the answer is amazingly clear.
Even today, there are some people who know exactly how to perform the Goral HaGra and there are some fantastic stories of how it was used when critical decisions had to be made, especially in times of crisis.
One famous story is that during World War II, tremendous efforts were exerted to save as many Jews as possible from the fiery Holocaust which threatened to devour all of European Jewry. Special pains were extended to save the leaders of the generation who would be especially needed to rebuild the broken generation after the war. One such Torah giant was HaGaon Reb Aharon Kotler, ztvk"l, who was given the opportunity to emigrate either to Israel or to America. The decision was a difficult one. In Israel there was a growing Torah community which could have benefited greatly by another luminary like Reb Aharon. America, on the other hand, was considered then to be a spiritual dessert. Some believed that Torah could never thrive there. But perhaps for that very reason, it was imperative that a Torah scholar of Reb Aharon's caliber go there immediately and plow the barren land, making it fertile and receptive to the masses of refugees who would be arriving there throughout and after the war. Indeed, the Gaon, Reb Moshe Feinstein, ztvk"l, had already emigrated to the United States in 1937 and was struggling to get American Jewry to recognize the supremacy of Torah over all. He certainly needed help in his formidable challenge. Reb Aharon couldn't decide.
Finally, Reb Aharon solicited the Heavens for guidance and executed the Goral HaGra. The passage he read had a marvelously clear message: "And Hashem said to Aharon, 'Go to meet Moshe into the wilderness'" (Shemos 4:27)! Thousands of years ago, Hashem had commanded Aharon to leave Egypt and meet his brother Moshe in the desert and work with him to bring the Jews from bondage to freedom, and today He was commanding Reb Aharon to follow Reb Moshe to the spiritual wastelands of America and work with him to bring Torah to those who did not recognize it yet.
On April 10, 1941, Reb Aharon arrived in San Francisco, California and for over two decades, together with Reb Moshe, worked tirelessly to make the United States the stronghold of Torah it is today, second only to Eretz Yisroel.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network