Parashat Shelah- The Spiritual Mission of Yehoshua’s Spies
The Haftara read on Shabbat Parashat Shelah is the section in the Book of Yehoshua (chapter 2) which tells of the two spies sent by Yehoshua to the city of Yeriho shortly before Beneh Yisrael crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. Just as Moshe sent spies before Beneh Yisrael were to have entered the land, now, forty years later, Yehoshua sent two spies ahead to Yeriho, the first city which Beneh Yisrael conquered after crossing into the land.
Surprisingly, the two spies proceeded directly to the home of Rahab – a woman who, the Gemara explains, worked as a prostitute. Of all the places they could have gone for lodging, they chose specifically the home of this woman.
No less surprising is the sudden transformation that Rahab underwent at that moment. The Midrash teaches that Rahab had worked as a prostitute for decades, and all the noblemen and dignitaries would visit her. And now, suddenly, she became righteous. When it was discovered that these two men were spies from Beneh Yisrael, she hid them, protected them, and told them of how she recognized that Hashem is the true G-d over the universe. She also pleaded with them to spare her and her family when Beneh Yisrael capture Yeriho. The spies promised Rahab that she would be saved, and she ended up joining Beneh Yisrael and even marrying their leader and prophet, Yehoshua.
How could Rahab have made such a drastic transformation – from a woman working in the least dignified profession, to a status of piety whereby she was deemed a suitable match for Yehoshua?
The answer is that the spies were sent on a special spiritual mission.
The land of Canaan was overrun by impurity. It was inhabited by the descendants of Canaan – a grandson of Noah, who committed a despicable act with his grandfather. His descendants followed his legacy of immorality, and their society was characterized by decadence. The Kelipot (forces of impurity) were concentrated in the home of Rahab, where for decades, men would come for sinful purposes. The two spies were righteous Sadikim – identified by the Sages as Pinhas and Kaleb – and they arrived in order to eliminate these Kelipot, to prepare the land for Beneh Yisrael’s entry by cleansing it of its impurity. And so they went directly to Rahab’s home, where the impurity of Canaan was most concentrated. Their mission was to eliminate the impurity through their piety, by lodging in the home of such a woman without any impure thoughts or temptation.
The spies’ exceptional piety had a profound impact upon Rahab. When these two men entered her home, and – unlike the countless other men who had visited her over the years – they exhibited no lust or temptation, and were engaged in purely spiritual matters, this had a drastic effect. Their work to eliminate the Kelipot influenced her to the point where she became exceptionally righteous, worthy of joining the Jewish Nation and marrying Yehoshua.
The verse states that upon the spies’ return to Beneh Yisrael’s camp, they told Yehoshua of their experiences – "Va’yesaperu Lo" (2:23). The verb S.P.R. ("tell" or "relate") can also be understood as an allusion to "Sapir" – sapphire, which produces a special shine. The spies told Yehoshua of the great "light" which they succeeded in producing, as evidenced by the impact of their visit upon Rahab. This showed that their excursion was indeed successful, and the land was now cleansed and ready for Beneh Yisrael to enter and establish the kind of sacred, G-dly society which they were to build.