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   by Jacob Solomon

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Joshua the son of Nun dispatched two… spies… saying, "Go and see the Land, and Jericho." (Joshua 2:1)

Guided Tour…

The scene of the Haftara takes place just after the death of Moses, where the Israelites are about to cross the Jordan and defeat the first city of the main area of the Promised Land - Jericho. The east bank of the Jordan - the land allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh - had already been conquered during the days of Moses. As Moses died before his work was completed, it fell to his successor, Joshua, to organize the capture and settling of the Land of Canaan by the Israelite nation.

Although G-d was with him, Joshua did not take victory over the walled city of Jericho for granted. He sent two men to enter the city gates and search the place out, no doubt to obtain as much useful military information as possible. Word reached the king of Jericho that two dangerous men penetrated the city from the outside, and were at large among his people. In the meantime one Rahab (her profession being variously rendered as 'innkeeper' or 'prostitute') had already secreted them into her own home within the actual city walls, hiding them under a pile of flax on the roof. When the king's men came in to search, she put the idea into their heads that they left the city before nightfall, causing them to run in great haste along the wrong trail…

Rahab, of course, knew what the men were really up to. And she told the spies all they needed to know: that the people of Jericho were in dread and terror of the Israelites. 'They had heard' of the miracles of the Red Sea and Moses' victories on the east side of the Jordan 'and their hearts had melted', (2:11) knowing full well that G-d was at the elbow of the conquering Israelites. The most she could hope for was that she and her family might be allowed to live. The men - on oath - agreed to spare them, under two conditions. She would ensure their safety out of Jericho by not betraying them, and hang on her window a bright red thread [likely to be a symbol of her means of earning an income] that would accordingly be recognized by Joshua's invading troops.

The men left Jericho in pitch dark: as the gates were still locked, she let them escape from the city though the window - going down the rope. For Jericho's wall was a casement wall, in common with Canaanite cities of the period. As in Hazor and Megiddo, they were thick enough to house as well as defend the local population.

They hid in the mountains for three days until the search was called off. Their report to Joshua, in contrast to the earlier spies sent by Moses, was short and to the point: "G-d has given all the Land into our hands… all the inhabitants of the land have melted in the face of us." (2:24)

The Talmud (Megillah 14b) brings a tradition that after Rahab was spared by the invaders (6:25), she joined the Israelite nation, married Joshua himself, and became the ancestress of eight prophets, including Jeremiah, Baruch son of Nerian, and Hulda the Prophetess.

D'var Torah

The expedition to spy out Jericho prior to its capture was an exemplary and successful one. The expedition to spy out the Promised Land thirty nine years previously turned out to be a disaster, culminating in G-d's sentence of 'Not one of you shall enter the Land in which I had sworn to settle you except Caleb the son of Jephuneh and Joshua the son of Nun.' (Num.14:30) What was the fundamental difference between the two operations that caused such differences in their outcome?

A closer look at the two texts reveals some fundamental differences. For the two spies sent by Joshua were stated to be cheresh (Josh. 2:1). Rashi renders the word as literally means 'deaf': that the spies were to pretend they could not hear, so that the locals would not be scared to disclose vital information of interest to Joshua in their presence. Other commentaries understand that word differently: it can mean that the spies were to be sent 'secretly', or that the spies themselves were 'craftsmen' - specialists in their skills of acting for The Intelligence. In contrast, the men dispatched by Moses did not merely give the appearance, but acted as 'torim' first and foremost (Num. 14:2) - people who walk about, perhaps akin to tourists. Political figures they certainly were - they prevailed on the Israelites to plan to depose Moses and Aaron, elect a chieftain, and return to Egypt. (14:4) But they did not act as professional spies. Instead of passing on their information solely to Moses and Aaron and letting them deal with it as they saw fit, they presented it dramatically before the 'whole congregation of the Israelites.' (13:26) In contrast, the two men who collected information about Jericho, related 'G-d has given all the Land into our hands… all the inhabitants of the land have melted in the face of us,' to Joshua only. (2:24)

This comparison is relevant to life in this day and age, where projects are more likely to be successful if undertaken quietly and unobtrusively, than under the public eye, with pomp and ceremony.

In addition, the comparison between the two stories teaches an eternal lesson about use of time, as illustrated in the following anecdote.

A serious and G-d-fearing young man went to see his Rabbi. He complained that every time he went outdoors he was tempted to stare at the young ladies in the street. These disturbed and distracted his thoughts from higher matters.

The Rabbi went to the tap, filled up a glass of water to the brim, and placed into the young man's hand.

"Carry this glass of water round the neighborhood without spilling a drop. Then come back here with all the water inside the glass."

A few hours later there was a knock of the Rabbi's door. He was back, exhausted, with the glass of water intact.

"You really managed to get round all those streets without spilling a single drop?"

"Yes, Rabbi."

"But how did you do it?"

"It wasn't easy. I had to concentrate all the time - balancing the glass to make sure the water didn't spill."

"And tell me about the young ladies that you saw."

"Rabbi - how can I? I didn't get the chance. I was too busy making sure the water stayed in its place."

The Rabbi smiled. "I think you now have the answer to your problem."

Thus the men sent by Joshua spent were two days (at the most) in the city - with their very lives in great danger all the time. Like the young man, they were under great pressure to produce results. They did not have time to linger and 'hang out'. The larger group, described as torim, acted as people of leisure rather than in a manner befitting of a professional team. They did not focus on the task at hand - finding out military information of use to the conquering Israelites. (Num.13:17-20).

This perhaps explains the words of R. Gamliel the son of R. Judah: 'An excellent thing is the study of Torah combined with some worldly occupation, for the labor demanded by them both makes sin to be forgotten.' (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). Torah and purposeful occupations, appropriately combined, give people a range of valuable activities wide enough to avoid the worthless idling that breeds the ideal atmosphere for malicious gossip.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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