Parshat Shelach Lekha
June 25, 2005
Rehab hazonah – the harlot is the true heroine of Joshua\’s spy mission. She risks her own life and that of her family to save the spies from being captured. The storyline emphasizes her dramatic role by making her the only named character in the story. Joshua\’s two spies remain totally anonymous whereas Rehab\’s character is fleshed out. We learn about not only her but also about her abiding concern for the welfare of her family.
There were apparently two trends in the tradition about how to portray her heroic character. Targum Yonathon, attempts to repair her character from the very start. It translates \”zonah\” not as \”harlot\” but as \”innkeeper\” from the root \”zun\” meaning \”to feed\”. This tradition cannot abide this heroic woman as a harlot.
The other trend finds something heroic in the very fact that Rehab was a harlot, since her being a harlot provided an opportunity for her experience of God to change her life and way of looking at the world, as we see in the following midrash: \”[What prompted Rehab\’s change of heart?] Rehab the harlot said to Joshua\’s messengers: \’For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Reed Sea before you, whe you came out of Egypt… and as soon as we heard it our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any spirit in any man because of you.\’ (Joshua 2:10-11) They say that Rehab was ten years old when Israel went out from Egypt. And forty years that Israel wandered in the desert, she practiced harlotry. At the end of her fiftieth year, she converted, saying before the Holy One Blessed Be He: \’I have sinned in three things [customers apparently used these three means for entering her home – see Rashi, Zevahim 116b], forgive me because of those same three things, rope, the window and the wall, as it is said: \’Then she let them down by way of a rope through the window; for her house was by the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.\’\” (Verse 15)
(Adopted from Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael Masechet Amalek Parshat Yitro Horowitz Rabin ed. pp. 188-9)
This passage recognizes Rehab\’s radical transformation. In this telling of her story, she serves as a role model of a person\’s ability to discern truth no matter what one\’s social status may be. She also teaches us that all people are capable of transforming themselves and their environments into something new and better.