This weekend the FJMC's Sefer Haftarah will be at Beth-El Mekor Chayim, Cranford, NJ.
Next week it will be at Temple Beth Shalom, Livingston, NJ.
This week's Unraveller is not yet sponsored.
The haftarah portion for Sh'lakh L'kha in the FJMC Sefer Haftarah scroll, the travelling haftarah scroll that visits a different synagogue each week and contains all of the haftarot, was sponsored by Congregation Agudas Achim, Alexandria, VA, and Congregation Olam Tikvah, Fairfax, VA.>
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May 31, 2013
Parshat Sh'lakh L'kha
The commentators are divided on exactly what the occupation was of the woman who hid Joshua's scouts in Jericho. Yonatan's early Aramaic translation insists that Rahav was exactly what the text calls her: a prostitute (zonah). While another early Aramaic translation - that of Onkelos - describes Rahav as an innkeeper, linked to the Hebrew word for food (mazon). Rather ingeniously, one of the classical medieval commentators, Rabbi David Kimhi, supports Yonatan's reading and adds that prostitutes frequented inns where they trolled for "clients," thus explaining how Onkelos came to his translation. Nineteenth century Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim also favors Yonatan's reading but with an interesting historical observation. The scouts, he explains, intentionally called upon the assistance of a prostitute because they believed they would go undetected in her care. Canaanites would never look for morally upright Israelites in the company of a prostitute!
I would argue for describing Rahav as a prostitute; not because of the preponderance of rabbinic opinion but because it is precisely Rahav's questionable moral standing that speaks to us today.
Some might argue that since this was a time of war when our Israelite ancestors were in the midst of an existential struggle, any means of securing an advantage - including fraternizing with prostitutes - is justifiable. I am not one of those. Further, I do not believe that it is necessary to rehabilitate Rahav, as does the Midrash (Sifre, Numbers 78), and claim Rahav became a pious convert who later married Joshua and became the progenitor of no less than nine prophets. I would argue instead that the text comes to teach us that even those society might otherwise label as "immoral" can have redeeming virtues. In Rahav's case, she so loved her family that she insisted that their lives be spared when the Israelites capture Jericho. The author of the text glosses over the question of Rahav's moral rectitude and focuses on her prescience, loyalty, and helpfulness: qualities that do not excuse but surely outweigh her sexual conduct.
In effect, the haftarah offers hope for anyone who fails to match societal ideals. People can be celebrated for their larger contributions rather than their personal conduct. While it is God who holds us accountable for our moral choices, history - it seems - does not.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Wayne Allen, Ph.D. Rabbi Allen has served as a congregational rabbi for 35 years, taking on postings in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. He is currently serving as the Provost of the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School, and Lecturer at the University of Waterloo. He is the author of Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel, e-mail: Books@schechter.ac.il. Visit Rabbi Allen's website for more commentaries and information: rabbiwayneallen.ca
Rabbi Allen is an editorial board member, The Unraveller.
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