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D’var Haftarah Shlach

Parashat Shlach (Outside Israel) | Korach (Israel)

June 17, 2023 | 24 Sivan 5783

Torah (Outside Israel): Numbers 13:1-15:41

Triennial: Numbers 13:1-14:7 Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

Torah (Israel): Numbers 16:1-18:32 Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

Here is this week’s D’var Haftarah:

Invisible People
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Haftarah

My son is not one to learn by sitting in class, but he has a knack for finding the people worth learning from. That is how in 7th grade he learned one thing very clearly from his principal: There are no invisible people. So, he would stop to thank the bus driver and the street cleaner and ask the guard how he was doing.

This week’s haftarah is about an invisible woman. We may not think so from reading this chapter, but that is exactly what the Tanakh wants to alert us to. A person is only invisible if they are not recognized in our social narrative. If the story would have been written by a historian, the focus could have been on the shrewdness of the spies, or on the effective intelligence services the king of Jericho deployed. Rahab would have been a footnote.

Rahab was a person whose life was directed by necessity. Being defined as a whore is not a compliment in society and is usually reserved for those who have not had other options. We discover that Rahab has a family: parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. But they do not take care of her, just the opposite: she is the one that looks for a way to save their lives in the impending disaster that she believes is coming. This may well have been the regular modus operandi – the family relies on Rahab for its survival, economic or otherwise. And while Rahab could have taken the opportunity to break out of this cycle of carrying her family (which is thriving at her expense), we discover that Rahab is a woman with a large heart. She could have saved her own life without going out of the way for those who seem to not find it in them to care for her.

The town’s people in Jericho seem to accept her life as a fact, not as a comment on society’s failure. When they need her, they know where to find her, the rest of the time she lives in a dwelling that abuts the city wall, a vulnerable location. When the king needs information he finds Rahab and orders her to surrender the people because “to spy the whole land they came!” (Joshua 2:2). He demands patriotism from a woman whom society did not invest in when she needed it.

The Tanakh turns the story on its head. Rahab is the hero for not doing what is expected of her. She is shrewd and thoughtful, taking the side that seems right to her, not based on what is expected. She proves that she cannot be bought, contrary to what is expected from a woman in her position.

When the spies return to Joshua they do not report about the terrain and the land as the spies in the parashah did. They quote Rahab’s words of great faith as the key to conquering the land. To the spies she was not invisible.

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