Today is September 24, 2017 -

Parshat Shelach

Haftarah Parshat Shelach (Joshua 2:1-24)
July 2, 2016 /26 Sivan 5776
Please note: In Israel we read Parshat Korach

In literature, there is always a message in who is portrayed as the hero. The plot of this week’s haftarah has two distinctive sets of heroes, the anonymous spies sent to peruse Jericho to inspect the possibilities for its conquest, and the woman who harbored them during their mission and saved their lives, Rahab the harlot. In “proper” society, it is not often assumed that a prostitute will assume a heroic role since those who assume that particular profession are considered to be on the lower rungs of the societal ladder. Scripture and the writings of the sages often, as good literature does, like to challenge the norm to make people reevaluate what they assumed to be right.

If the biblical story takes us one step along this path, the following passage from the Talmud challenges our considerations even more: “Rav ‘Ena Saba cited the following in objection to Rav Nahman: ‘Eight prophets who were also priests were descended from Rahab the harlot, namely, Neriah, Baruch, Serayah, Mahseyah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel and Shallum.’ Rav Judah says: ‘Hulda the prophetess was also one of the descendants of Rahab the harlot. [We know this] because it is written here [regarding Shallum]: ‘the son of Tikvah’ (2 Kings 22:14) and it is written elsewhere [in connection with Rahab]. ‘the line [tikvath] of scarlet thread’! (Joshua 2:18)’ — He replied: ‘’Ena Saba’ or, according to another report, ‘Black bowl’ [nicknames for this sage]: ‘The truth can be found by combining my statement and yours. We must suppose that she became a proselyte and Joshua married her. But had Joshua any children? Is it not written, Nun his son, Joshua his son? – He had no sons, but he had daughters.’” (Megillah 14b)

According to this Talmudic discussion, not only was she the heroine of the story, she also became the progenitor of great prophetic characters and priests. In other words, her extraordinary deeds made her more than “kosher”. Both the biblical story and the rabbinic embellishment of the story are teaching us subtly, or not so subtly, that people are capable of a makeover and that one should not presume that station in life has anything to do with character. Both of these are powerful lessons to take with us when we evaluate people. Human worth needs to be measured in character and not by station or position. Rahab our foremother is an ode to that.

If the biblical story takes us one step along this path, the following passage from the Talmud challenges our considerations even more: “Rav ‘Ena Saba cited the following in objection to Rav Nahman: ‘Eight prophets who were also priests were descended from Rahab the harlot, namely, Neriah, Baruch, Serayah, Mahseyah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel and Shallum.’ Rav Judah says: Hulda the prophetess was also one of the descendants of Rahab the harlot. [We know this] because it is written here *[regarding Shallum]: ‘the son of Tikvah’ (2 Kings 22:14) and it is written elsewhere [in connection with Rahab]. ‘the line [tikvath] of scarlet thread’! (Joshua 2:18) — He replied: ‘’Ena Saba’ or, according to another report. ‘Black bowl’ [nicknames for this sage], the truth can be found by combining my statement and yours’. We must suppose that she became a proselyte and Joshua married her. But had Joshua any children? Is it not written, Nun his son, Joshua his son? [The Talmud replies:] He had no sons, but he had daughters.*” (Megillah 14b)

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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