Shlach - Haftarah - The Haftarah in Classical Rabbinic Interpretation

The Haftarah in Classical Rabbinic Interpretation

A Midrash taught that no other people sent to perform a religious duty and risk their lives on a mission could compare with the two spies whom Joshua sent. The Rabbis taught that the two were Phinehas and Caleb. The Midrash noted that Joshua 2:1 says, “Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two spies secretly (חֶרֶשׁ, cheresh).” The Midrash read the word חֶרֶשׁ, cheresh (“secretly”), as חָרֶשׂ, chares, “earthenware,” to teach that the two spies took with them earthenware pots and cried, “Here are pots! Whoever wishes, let him come and buy!” so that no one might detect them or say that they were spies. (Numbers Rabbah 16:1.)

The Rabbis taught that Rahab was one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived, along with Sarah, Abigail, and Esther. The Rabbis taught that Rahab inspired lust by the mere mention of her name. Rabbi Isaac taught that saying Rahab’s name twice would cause a man immediately to lose control. Rav Nachman protested that he said Rahab’s name twice and nothing happened to him. Rabbi Isaac replied that he meant that this would happen to any man who knew her. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 15a; see also Babylonian Talmud Taanit 5b.)

A Midrash explained that Joshua 2:4 speaks of Rahab’s hiding “him” instead of “them” because Phinehas, as a prophet, had the power to make himself invisible. (Numbers Rabbah 16:1.)

A Midrash deduced from Joshua 2:4 and 1 Chronicles 4:22 that Rahab lied to the king, and was prepared to be burned to death in punishment for doing so, for she attached herself to Israel. (Ruth Rabbah 2:1.)

A Midrash taught that for hiding the spies, God rewarded the convert Rahab with priestly descendants. (Numbers Rabbah 8:9.)

Reading Joshua 2:9, a Midrash noted that Rahab, like Israel, Jethro, and the Queen of Sheba, came to the Lord after hearing of God’s miracles. (Exodus Rabbah 27:4.)

Rabbi Eleazar recounted that Rahab knew in Joshua 2:10–11 that the Canaanites had lost heart because they had lost their virility. (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 116a–b.)

The Rabbis taught that Rahab’s attribution in Joshua 2:11 of God’s presence to both heaven and earth demonstrated greater faith in God than Jethro or Naaman, but not as much as Moses. (Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:28.)

Rabbi Samuel son of Nahman faulted Joshua in Joshua 2:12–14 for keeping faith with Rahab in disobedience to God’s command in Deuteronomy 20:17 to “utterly destroy” all of the Canaanites. (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 13:5:1.)

The Mekhilta taught that as the events of Joshua 2:15 took place, Rahab converted to Judaism, at the end of her fiftieth year. She said before God that she had sinned in three ways. And she asked to be forgiven on account of three things — on account of the red cord, the window, and the wall. “Then,” in the words of Joshua 2:15, “she let them down by a cord through the window, for her house was upon the side of the wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.” (Mekhilta 45:1:4.)

A Midrash deduced from Joshua 2:16 that Rahab received a prophetic vision of what the spies’ pursuers would do. (Ruth Rabbah 2:1.)

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