Rahab, the Paradigm of Virtue (Joshua 2:1-24)

Rahab gained a prominent place in the Jewish tradition for her act of righteousness in saving the spies who were sent by Joshua to reconnoiter the city of Jericho. She hid the two spies and then helped them escape through a window of her house which was part of the wall (haKir) of the city: “She let them down by a rope through the window – for her dwelling was at the outer side of the city and she lived in the actual wall.” (2:15) She is also acclaimed for her recognition of God and the greatness of His acts and for her tremendous concern for saving her family. She demanded of the spies: “Provide me with a reliable sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.” (2:12-13) The spies acceded to her request and later, when the conquest of Jericho occurs, her family was, indeed, saved: “So the young spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father and her mother, her brothers and all that belonged to her – they brought her whole family and left them outside the camp of Israel.” (6:23)

Rahab’s meritorious acts were not forgotten by the tradition. The prophet Isaiah records that when King Hezekiah was deathly ill, he prayed to God for mercy that he might be saved: “Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall (haKir) and prayed to the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:2) The sages, who composed the following midrash, noted that the same word “haKir” was used both in the Rahab story and in the story about King Hezekiah. This led them to a creative “rereading” of the story about King Hezekiah’s prayers:

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall’. To which wall did he turn his face? Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: To Rahab’s wall, of which it is written, ‘Her house was a part of the side of the wall’ (Joshua 2:15). Hezekiah said to God: ‘Lord of the universe, she saved two lives for You (the spies) and You saved many lives for her!’ Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai learned: Even if there were two hundred men in her family and they were connected with two hundred families, they were all saved through her merit; for the verse does not say here ‘her family’ but rather ‘her whole families’ also they brought out (Joshua 6:23). ‘How much more so should You (God) spare me (Hezekiah) seeing that my ancestors gathered unto You so many converts!’” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 5:6)

Hezekiah based his prayers on the merits of his ancestors, King David and King Solomon, who, according to tradition, gathered over 100,000 converts for God and the Jewish people. (See 2 Chronicles 2:17) This act was considered virtuous, according to this midrash, because it paralleled the pious behavior of Rahab, making Rahab (the harlot) a worthy paradigm for kings to emulate. Just as Rahab saved the lives of the spies and merited saving her family as a result, so too, when the kings of Israel made converts for God, they had the merit of saving the lives of all those souls. Hezekiah’s prayers could surely bank on these merits.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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