Parshat Shelach Lekha
June 21, 2008
18 Sivan 5768
Rahab gained a prominent place in the Jewish tradition for her act of righteousness in saving the spies who were sent by Joshua to reconnoiter the city of Jericho before its conquest. She is renowned for hiding these two spies in her house and then helping them escape from her house which had a wall that was part of the wall (haKir) of the city: \”She let them down by a rope through the window – for her dwelling was at the outer side of the city and she lived in the actual wall.\” (2:15) She is also acclaimed for her recognition of God and the greatness of His acts and for her tremendous concern for saving her family. She demanded of the spies: \”Provide me with a reliable sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.\” (2:12-13) The spies acceded to her request and later, when the conquest of Jericho occurs, her family is indeed saved: \”So the young spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father and her mother, her brothers and all that belonged to her – they brought her whole family and left them outside the camp of Israel.\” (6:23)
These acts were not forgotten by the tradition. The prophet Isaiah records that when King Hezekiah was deathly ill, he prayed to God for mercy that he might be saved: \”Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall (haKir) and prayed to the Lord.\” (Isaiah 38:2) Sages in rabbinic times paid close attention to the fact that the Hebrew word for \”wall\” was modified by the definite article and asked themselves which \”wall\”. Instead of acknowledging the plain meaning of the text, namely that he stood in front of a wall when he prayed, they imagined that he thought of a particular episode from the past where a wall was involved in God showing His mercy. This is how the midrash wove the story of Rahab into the fabric of the prayers of Hezekiah.
\”\’Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall\’. To which wall did he turn his face? R. Joshua b. Levi said: To Rahab\’s wall, of which it is written, \’Her house was a part of the side of the wall\’ (Josh. 2,15). Hezekiah said to God: ‘Lord of the universe, she saved two lives for You (the spies) and You saved many lives for her!\’ Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai learned: Even if there were two hundred men in her family and they were connected with two hundred families, they were all saved through her merit; for the verse does not say here ‘her family’ but rather \’her whole families\’ also they brought out (Joshua 6:23). ‘How much more so should You (God) spare me (Hezekiah) seeing that my ancestors gathered unto You so many converts!’\” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 5:6)
Here, Hezekiah counts as a family virtue, worthy of saving his life, the fact that there is a tradition that his ancestors, King David and King Solomon, gathered over a 100,000 converts for God and the Jewish people. (based on 2 Chronicles 2:17) God listened to Hezekiah\’s prayers and acknowledged the virtuous act of his ancestors. Why? The gathering of converts under God\’s wings, is considered by God just like the saving of lives. Just as Rahab saved the lives of the spies, so too, when the kings of Israel made converts for God, they had the merit of saving the lives of all those souls.
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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