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Shelah-Lekha 5764

Parshat Shelah Lekha
(Joshua 2:1-24)
June 12, 2004

There is a pronounced tendency in the biblical literary tradition to turn a rejected or downtrodden character in the story into a hero or heroine. In this week’s episode, the story of the spies sent to scout out the city of Jericho before its conquest, neither Joshua nor the spies play THE heroic role. Instead, the real hero of the story is Rehab Hazonah, who is either an innkeeper or a harlot. It is she who shows an awareness of God and who is the one who responds to this call by rescuing the hapless spies who, without her assistance, would have faced their doom. The spies reward her heroism with a covenantal agreement: “Now since I have shown loyalty to you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will show loyalty to my family… The men answered her, ‘Our persons are pledged for yours, even to death!…But the men warned her, ‘We will be released from the oath which you have made us take [unless], when we invade the country, you tie this length of crimson cord (tikvat hut hashani) to the window through which you let us down.’” (verses 12,14,17,18)

The level of trust found in this covenant is reflected in rabbinic attempts to link Rehab to the genealogy of a number of important biblical figures: “Huldah the prophetess was a descendent of Joshua… Rav Eina the Elder asked Rav Nachman: \'[But isn’t there a tradition that] eight prophets who were also priests (cohanim) were descendents of Rehab Hazonah, and these are there names: Neriah, Baruch, Sariah, Machsaiah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel, and Shalum.\’ Rabbi Judah said: \’Huldah the prophetess was also a descendent of Rehab.\’\” [We are meant to infer this from the fact that Huldah is referred to as a descendent of] “ben tikvah” (2 Kings 22:14) and the story of Rehab mentions “tikvat hut hashani”. [Rav Nachman and Rav Eina resolve their debate by concluding that Joshua must have married Rehab.] (adapted from Megillah 14b)

This special recognition, of course, was not free of associated problems. The claim that Rehab was the ancestor of prophets, let alone priests, created a halachic (legal) dilemma since priests are traditionally prohibited from marrying converts as well as harlots. In addition, there is a prohibition against marrying Canaanite women. Later sages found solutions to the problems raised by the Talmud’s inclusion of Rehab into the family history of the nation. One solution has it that she was not a Canaanite and was consequently permitted to marry after she converted. (Tosafot Megillah 14b s.v. de’egeiyrah) Another possible solution asserted that God made a special decree in her case. A third solution claimed that the marriage preceded the command not to marry Cannanites. (see Tosafot Yevamot 35b s.v. l’rabot)

In any case the desire to include Rehab among the matriarchs of our people is similar to the biblical account of Ruth, the great grandmother of David. Both of these accounts illustrate our tradition’s desire to offer us models of human transcendence so that we might see them as a model of a religious imperative to rise to every occasion.

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.

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