June 5, 2010
23 Sivan 5770
The real hero of this little episode in Biblical history is not a hero but a heroine. Sure, the two anonymous spies did their job much more capably than their princely counterparts in the Torah whom Moses sent to scout out the land only to return to discourage the people from their destiny to conquer the land. The heroine of the haftarah\’s story was a woman who saved the two spies sent by Joshua to scout out Jericho at great risk to her own life and that of her family. This woman, Rahab \”hazonah – the harlot\”, seems an unlikely heroine. After all, a prostitute is an unexpected heroine in a religious story. Not only did she save the two spies from most certain capture, she was also the first to recognize and acknowledge the role of God in redeeming the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, splitting the sea and readying them for the conquest of the land of Canaan.
This remarkable woman did not go unrecognized by the sages who marveled at her tenacity and her ability to radically remake her life: \”[Rahab] was ten years old when Israel went out from Egypt, and she acted the role of prostitute for all of the forty years that they were in the desert. At the age of fifty, she converted, and said, may I be forgiven as a reward for the rope from the window and the stalks of flax [she used to save the two spies].\” (Zevahim 116b) In another source, her exemplary behavior became a model for others to emulate: \”Rabbi Avdimi from Haifa [taught] A person should always face a wall when s/he prays… Which wall should one raise one\’s eyes to? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: \’One should raise one\’s eyes to Rahab\’s wall, since the wall of her house was the wall of the city. One should say before God: Master of the world, Rahab the harlot saved the lives of two (the spies) and look how many were saved as a result of her act… (all of her family)\’\” (Yerushalmi Berachot 4:4 [8b])
Rahab\’s recognition of God, her desire to attach her fate to that of the children of Israel, and the rabbinic tradition that marks her as a baalat teshuva – one who mends her life in order to draw closer to God – make her truly a heroic figure, one to whom all of us can look for inspiration.
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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