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Parshas Shelach: What Caused Rachav’s Epiphany


This is an easy one.

The institution of the haftarah was enacted at a time in Jewish history when our oppressors forbade reading from the Torah. The Levush (284:1) writes that since Antiyochus did not forbid reading Navi, Chazal obligated us to read a portion of Navi each week from a topic that related to the parsha.

Sometimes it’s easy to see the connection, sometimes you have to think. This week’s parsha is Shelach and in it we read about the spies sent by Moshe and the spiritual debacle they caused. The haftarah describes the episode in Sefer Yehoshua of spies being sent to Yericho just prior to Klal Yisrael’s attack on the city.

As we read the Navi there are many questions that come to mind. Foremost is why did Yehoshua send the spies? He knew the devastation that resulted from the spies Moshe had sent almost 40 years before, so why would Yehoshua risk setting off another spiritual firestorm? Hashem had already told him of Klal Yisrael’s impending military success in conquering Eretz Yisrael, so what was the purpose of sending the spies? Furthermore, when the spies come to Yericho they don’t seem to make their way around the city, they merely go to one location, the house of Rachav, famous for being a zonah, a harlot.

Why did they go to a “house of ill repute” and how did that accomplish their mission?

In addition, later in the haftarah, we read of Rachav helping the spies and of her teshuvah. What propelled Rachav to such an amazing spiritual transformation? These are some of the questions that run through most people’s minds when reading this haftarah.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, rav of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, in his book, A Prophet for Today-Sefer Yehoshua, tackles these questions. The following is based largely on the insights presented there.

The Malbim, based on simple deduction, points out that Yehoshua must have sent the spies between the days following Moshe’s death on the 7th of Adar and prior to the 10th of Nissan when the Jewish People miraculously crossed over the Yarden. In addition, the Malbim emphasizes that Moshe had sent his spies from a further distance, deep in the Sinai desert, while the distance from the encampment at the Yarden to Yericho was much shorter. Furthermore, Moshe spies were told to scout the entire land while Yeshoshua’s spies were told only to spy on one city, Yericho. Given the nation’s distraction and preoccupation with mourning Moshe’s death and the short mission given, it’s clear why the pasuk (Yehoshua 2:1) says that the spies were sent secretly, “cherish,” with the nation unaware of the mission. Thus, Yeshoshua was not risking the possibility of instilling fear and doubt into the people.

So, what was Yeshoshua’s goal and why did they go to the prostitute, Rachav’s house, of all places?

Rabbi Pruzansky suggests that despite the fact that Hashem told Yehoshua Klal Yisrael would defeat the inhabitants of Canaan, there was no exact date given for when that would occur.

Yehoshua knew that the outcome of the battles would depend not on military might but on the spiritual strength of Klal Yisrael and the spiritual weakness of the Caananites. Eretz Yisrael was to “vomit out” the Caananites because of their immorality, and accept Klal Yisrael because of theirhigh spiritual level. This is especially true regarding sexual immorality, as Sanhedrin 106a states that Hashem hates those who engage in sexual licentiousness. The end of Parshas Acharei-Mos after listing all of the forbidden sexual relationships, the Chumash says (Vayikra 18:25) that the land will expel all those engaged in these sins. Hence, Yeshoshua wanted to make sure that Klal Yisrael was on a higher spiritual level and the purpose of the spies’ mission was to discover, in effect, the spiritual status of the Canaanites.

Who were the spies? Rashi (2:4) cites Chazal who say they were Calev and Pinchas, both extremely righteous people. Calev had shown his resistance to temptation when, like Yehoshua, he had not gone along with the evil plans of the other ten spies of Moshe. Pinchas had shown his disgust for evil by killing Zimri and Kozbi for their public immorality, and in doing so ended the plague of death engulfing Klal Yisrael at that time.

The supreme righteousness of Calev and Pinchas was an absolute necessity for this mission of gauging the spiritual greatness of Klal Yisrael in contrast to the spiritual depravity of the Canaanites. This is why Yehoshua told them to go specifically to the most immoral place in Canaan, the house of the famous prostitute, Rachav. Megillah 15a tells us that all men found Rachav irresistible and Zevachim 116a describes how all officers and ministers of Canaan visited her. Rachav was the ultimate symbol of Canaanite immorality and the spies were sent there to test themselves and show Rachav that Klal Yisrael is able to resist her.

While one is not supposed to put himself in an immoral environment, this was a “hora’as sha’ah,” a temporary emergency mission. Still, given the difficulty of this spiritual test, perhaps this is why the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:1) describes Pinchas and Calev as being extremely self-sacrificing in accepting this dangerous mission.

When Rachav saw that she wielded no influence on these two tzaddikim and that they were not at all tempted or affected by her beauty, even with improper thoughts, she realized that Klal Yisrael was on a people on a higher spiritual plane than she had ever encountered. Chazal say she repented at that time, and it would appear that her epiphany was a direct result of encountering the spirituality of Calev and Pinchas.

When Rachav reported that the hearts of the Canaanites were melting, Chazal (Zevachim 116a-b) say she was actually saying that the men who would visit her had become impotent. She thought it was merely out of fear of Klal Yisrael’simpending invasion, as the nation had a remarkable military resume in defeating Pharaoh, Sichon, and Og, but upon seeing the holiness of Calev and Pinchas, she realized that the impotence was a result of Klal Yisrael’s proximity to Klal Yisrael’s encampment. The nation had camped just opposite Eretz Yisrael on the banks of the Yarden and their holiness reached even the Canaanites, who were no longer capable of immorality (Mishbetzos Zahav, cited by Rabbi Pruzansky). This reality made a tremendous impression upon Rachav and spurred her transformation. When Calev and Pinchas saw that their encounter with Rachav had caused a total change and that even the Canaanites were altered by Klal Yisrael’s high spiritual level, they knew that the conquest of the land could begin.

Rachav became a true baalas teshuva, a prototype example of a person who turned her back on a false life and started using her great qualities and talents for good. She became such a righteous woman that Yehoshua married her and great prophets and leaders were among their descendants (Megillah 14b).

And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftarah.

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4 Responses to “Parshas Shelach: What Caused Rachav’s Epiphany”

  1. Amen.YHWH bless us.
    Shabbath Shalom from Indonesia.

  2. We are a community people

  3. Helen Talkin says:

    Amen & Amen YHWH Blessing & peace for Jerusalem!

  4. Helen Talkin says:

    Amen & Amen YHWH Blessing & peace for Jerusalem!

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