Fate can be experienced as a cruel mistress. Sometimes we can feel like our lives are being determined by forces beyond our own control. Living life with this feeling of inevitability is debilitating. What’s the point of doing anything if everything is predetermined, if I’m not in the driver’s seat?
Perhaps it was this thought which led most of the tribes to neglect their duties to inherit the land. The division of the land was to be done by lottery (Bamidbar 26:55); seemingly, each tribe’s plot was predetermined. So who needs to go conquer it?
But a sense of fate can be reframed in the opposite direction, not as determining our choices, but as affirming them. If life is predetermined, then the choices you made are the ones that needed to be made, and wherever you are is where you’re meant to be. It sounds very Zen-like, but there are a number of indications that this framing more accurately explains Yehoshua’s lottery. The lottery gives a Divine imprimatur to the choices that each tribe made. Despite the Torah’s instruction to give to each tribe according to its size (Bamidbar 26:54), Yehuda conquers a much larger area than they actually need, and so the tribe of Shimon is forced to settle among them (Yehoshua 19:9). Dan, on the other hand, receives a portion they feel is too small for them (probably because they’re unable to conquer all of it, as the first chapter of the book of Shoftim indicates), and so they travel far afield, to a piece of land which may not even have been within the originally intended borders of the land, to conquer Leshem (Yehoshua 19:48). But this, too, is included in their inheritance.
For these tribes, their fate is what they make of it. But in retrospect, their decisions fulfill old prophecies, of Yaakov, who decreed that Shimon would be scattered amongst the tribes (Breishit 49:7), and of Moshe, who told of Dan “leaping forth from the Bashan” (Devarim 33:22), the area in the north-east, far from their main portion on the western coast.
Faith in fate can be debilitating, or it can be affirming. How you choose to frame it is not predetermined.
This blog offers short reflections on the 929 project’s daily chapter of Tanach. Learn more about the project at 929.org.il