Rahav and the Spies art by Laya Crust
Parsha- Shelach Lecha Numbers 13:1- 15- 41; Haftarah- Joshua 2: 1- 24
The parsha of Shelach Lecha tells the story of twelve leaders who were appointed to spy on the land of Canaan. When they returned to the Israelites’ camp they carried fantastic fruit and tales of fantastically dangerous enemies.
The haftarah for Shelach Lecha took place 40 years after the above mentioned story. Joshua, Moshe’s successor sent two spies (as opposed to the twelve men) into Jericho to assess the situation. The two men went straight to an inn at the edge of the city walls owned by a woman named Rahav. It was a brilliant move. The spies would be able to talk to citizens and travelers at the inn to ascertain the mood of the community.
It is common for women to be unidentified in Tanach text. If you remember the story of Samson’s birth, Samson’s mother was never identified. Manoah his father, on the other hand, was named 16 times. Maybe Rahav, the innkeeper, was named because she was a heroine. She put herself at risk to help the two spies escape even though she knew that their purpose was to usher an attack on Jericho. The information she shared with them was key to their confidence in conquering the land. She said, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Mitzrayim, and what you did to the two Kings of the Emori…as soon as we heard these things our hearts melted, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you…”
Let’s look back at the parsha. After the twelve men returned from their mission with messages of doom and gloom the people began to rebel against God. God responded in anger, threatening to destroy them all. Moshe stopped God’s rage by telling Him, “if you kill all these people as one person then the nations that have heard your fame will say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he promised them and so He has killed them in the wilderness.” We may have thought this was Moshe speaking in hyperbole but Rahav’s words (“We have heard how the Lord”, etc….) proved that Moshe had been correct. God’s reputation and His protection of the Israelites were recognized by the neighbouring nations.
In the parsha, we read Moshe’s tribute to God’s glory: – “haShem erech epayim v’rav chesed noseh avon vaPesha v’nakeh”. ” The Lord is slow to anger, great in love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” This was mirrored by Rahav’s statement that “…the Lord your God. He is God in Heaven above and on the earth beneath…” Those words were a declaration of faith of God’s greatness.
We see by these parallels that the haftarah is a mirror to the events in parshat Shelach Lecha. It may also be a “tikkun” or mending of those events. The slave mentality had to be erased from the nation before it could take the initiative to have faith in God’s promise and fight the inhabitants of Canaan. When that slave mentality was erased Joshua could investigate the land wisely. The unnamed spies could gather the pertinent information without their egos getting in the way. Rahav could show the spies their route- or “rehov”- while acknowledging the breadth- “rahav”- of God’s greatness, and help b’nei Yisrael in its battle.
The two stories read together bring another dimension to consider when we read our history. According to Midrash, Rahav converted to Judaism and married Joshua. One Midrash states that Jeremiah and 7 other prophets descended from her. Just as with Tamar and Ruth, Rahav’s faith and righteousness created a legacy for the future of the Jewish people.
I hope you enjoyed this perspective on the lessons from this week’s parsha and haftarah.
May we see peace in the Israel and the rest of the world. May shalom encompass us all.