Spies to the Holy Land - Mission Possible
Yisrael" remains ahead of the Diaspora
by one Parshah.
This week Jews in Israel read Parshat Korach and its Haftarah,
while Jews in the Diaspora, Ashkenazic
and Sefardic, read
Parshat Shelach and its Haftarah.
This phenomenon was explained briefly in last week's essay on the
Haftarah, and that explanation is available now also under "Yom
Tov Sheni shel Galuyot" in the OU Website Glossary.
Haftarah of Shelach is taken, according to both the Ashkenazic and
Sefardic communities, from the second chapter of the Book of Yehoshua.
That chapter recounts the spying mission undertaken by the Jewish
People against Yericho upon their initial entry into the Land.
the Haftarah of Shelach, there is a tremendous contrast with the Parshah.
In the Parshah, the mission that began with the sending of a large group
of spies, the "Meraglim," one representative from each of the
twelve Tribes, amidst fanfare and perhaps a send-off parade, ended in
spies formed a conspiracy and brought back a report that disheartened the
People, resulting in "weeping without a cause," that resulted in
"weeping for all generations."
It caused a loss of faith that undid the previous "And they
believed in HaShem and in Moshe, His servant" (Shemot 14:31), and
resulted in a mutiny against G-d and Moshe, and a move to return to Egypt.
in the Haftarah, the situation was entirely different.
of all, the delegation of spies was small, consisting of just two:
Kalev ben Yephuneh and Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaCohen.
The composition of this group reflected a level of faith in HaShem
that had been proved beyond a doubt by past performance under stress.
was one of the two faithful spies from the desert delegation, along with
Pinchas, the Zealot for
HaShem's Name, was the one who had killed Zimri, the Prince of the Tribe
of Shimon in the act of committing a terrible "Chilul HaShem,"
Desecration of G-d's Name, by living in public with Cuzbi bat Tzur, a
That act had saved the People of Israel from a disastrous plague.
the delegation was sent "cheresh," silently, secretly, known
only to Yehoshua, the leader of the People.
This was obviously a better method of running an intelligence
the objective of the mission was limited.
It was to gather intelligence about one major city, and its
Not about a whole country, seven nations plus Amalek in the case of
the "Meraglim" of a generation earlier, not about the climate,
agriculture, water supply, etc. - a comprehensive survey of a whole
country, within a limited time, with no time to properly digest the
operation was successful.
It succeeded in providing a psychological profile of the people of
Yericho, which showed that fear of Israel and its G-d had been struck into
their hearts and, by their testimony, into the hearts of all the nations
of the land, as well.
the beginning of the Haftarah, the spies arrive at the home of Rachav,
embedded in the thick wall of the city.
She is described in the text as an "ishah zonah."
There are two opinions as to the meaning of this expression: the
first, that it means "harlot," in accordance with the plain
meaning of the word; the second is that it means "innkeeper,"
which doesn't deviate greatly from the plain meaning.
any case, the Talmud in Masechet
Megilah 15a, describes her as
one of the four most beautiful women in the history of the world:
Sarah, Rachav, Avigail and Esther.
And in Masechet Zevachim
116b, it is recorded that for forty years, from the time she was
ten at the time of the Exodus, throughout the forty years that the Jewish
People were in the desert, she plied her trade with every important
official in Yericho.
This would explain why she would be considered
an excellent source of information by the Jewish spies.
any case, again, she would be another example of a highly improbable
Biblical heroine, a woman of great beauty and great intelligence, albeit
of dubious moral character initially, who repented, and converted, as a
result of this encounter with representatives of G-d's People.
In fact, the Talmud records that she became the wife of Yehoshua
after the conquest of Yericho.
King of Yericho, which was probably a very large metropolis at that time,
is informed of the arrival of the spies at the House of Rachav.
Hearing of this, she quickly hides them among the flax mats on her
Troops are dispatched to her home, who order her to turn them over.
misleads the pursuing forces by telling them that
the spies were indeed at her home, but that they'd just left, with
an unknown destination.
If the troops would immediately resume their pursuit, they would
have a good chance of capturing them. The Midrash
of Pirka D'Rabbeinu HaKadosh 15 states that she was one of the three
individuals who, for their lies,
were rewarded in this world and the next.
The troops resume their hot pursuit, closing the gates of the city
behind them in order to trap the spies within the city if they'd remained
goes to her roof to speak with the spies of Israel.
She says, "I know that G-d has given the Land of Canaan over
to you, and that terror of the Israelites has fallen upon all my
because we heard about how HaShem dried up the waters of
the Yam Suf for you to cross over on your way out of Egypt, and of how you
destroyed Sichon and Og, the two Emorite Kings, on the Eastern side of the
When we heard that, our hearts melted, and nobody's spirit was able
to rise to challenge you, for HaShem, your G-d, is the true G-d of Heaven
and Earth." (Yehoshua 2: 9-11)
Rachav requested "payment" for the great favor she'd done for
the spies, in saving their lives.
"And now, swear to me, by your G-d, for inasmuch as I showed
kindness to you, that you will likewise be kind to my family; give me a
sign of your faithfulness.
Spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters
and all their families." (Yehoshua 2: 12-13).
spies swore by their lives that if Rachav kept the secret, that when
HaShem would give them victory over the city, that they would return her
truth and kindness.
And she lowered them by a rope over the walls, since she lived in
the thick wall of the city.
(Yehoshua 2: 14-15)
urged them, "Go and hide in the mountains for three days, until the
soldiers pursuing you have given up their search."
They said to her, "We will be clear of this oath if you do not
mark the window by which you lowered us with a red thread, and gather your
father, your mother, your brothers and all your family into your
house." (Yehoshua 2: 16-18)
who leaves the house will be responsible for the loss of his life, and we
will be clear; but if anybody with you in the house is killed, their blood
will be on our heads.
And if you tell this to anyone else, we are clear of the oath that
we have sworn to you." (Yehoshua 2: 19-20)
said, 'As you have spoken, so be it;' and she sent them, and they left,
and she tie a red thread in her window.
They fled to the mountains for three days until the pursuing
soldiers gave up the chase." (Yehoshua 2: 21-22)
two men descended the mountain, crossed the Yarden, and came to Yehoshua
They told him everything that had happened to them.
They told Yehoshua, 'HaShem has given us all of the Land, and all
its inhabitants have melted in fear before us.' " (Yehoshua 2:23-24)
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU