“Tie the line of this scarlet thread in the window…” The spies consented to Rachav’s request but added the special condition that she hang a scarlet thread in the window to signify her home. Because they identified the sign as “this scarlet thread,” it would seem that they were referring to the familiar rope by which they were lowered to the ground (see M’tzudos Dovid). However, one must question their reference to it as a “thread” rather than as a “strong rope.” Rachav’s rescue procedure certainly required a firm rope and not a mere thread. What hidden lesson can we learn from this obvious deviation from rope to thread?
Upon reflection we realize the profound lesson of faith taught here. Let us consider this incident through Rachav’s perspective. She successfully completed an unexpected heroic rescue and asked for the protection and salvation of her family in return. Although the spies consented and gave their word, Rachav had no guarantee that anything would actually materialize. All she had going for herself was a rope and what it represented. If the Jewish people would notice the rope and remember their moral obligation she would be spared, and if not….
Indeed we find Shlomo Hamelech singing about this in Shir Hashirim. He praises the Jewish people and says, “Your lips are likened to the scarlet thread” (4:3) Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this refers to the lips of the spies who kept their promise and remembered the thread. Here again attention is drawn to the thread upon which their commitment was based. Rachav’s entire family was totally dependent upon this thread and its implications to the Jewish people. Shlomo praises the Jewish people for keeping their word and responding to that seemingly insignificant sign placed in the window.
We now appreciate the reference to the rope as a thin thread. In reality, Rachav was expected to place her faith in Hashem and trust the spies’ commitment to their moral obligation. If she truly respected and trusted her newly gained Jewish brethren, even this thin thread would serve as her source of salvation. The spies therefore informed Rachav at the outset that their rescue efforts would be based on this faith. Yes, this scarlet thread would be the test, and if she displayed true faith, they would do all in their power to rescue her entire family.
“And it will be that whoever steps outside your house will bear his own responsibility and we are innocent, but for whoever remains with you inside we accept full responsibility if he is harmed.” This lengthy condition indicates that the spies addressed many concerns with their words. In addition to their responsibility for their own actions, they agreed to secure the general welfare of Rachav’s family. They consented to protect everyone inside her house but accepted no responsibility for anyone who stepped outside her doors. Although this can be understood on a practical level, how can this condition satisfy their moral obligation? If in fact the spies were obligated to protect Rachav’s family at all costs, wouldn’t this extend wherever Rachav’s family would be?
In light of our earlier insights, we can understand their condition in the following manner. The basic obligation of the Jewish people was to clear Eretz Yisroel from all its present inhabitants. An exception was made for Rachav and her family because they were joining the Jewish ranks and converting to Judaism. Rachav already displayed her genuine commitment to Judaism through her heroic rescue. However, the rest of her family had not yet proven themselves, leaving their preservation a serious source of concern. The spies suggested that her family totally severe its ties with the Canaanites placing it in a class of its own worthy of being spared. In order to demonstrate this the family was expected to remain in Rachav’s house, totally segregated from the city’s inhabitants. But if they were found outside her house, this would indicate their identification with the Canaanites and under such conditions they did not deserve to be saved.
“And if you relate our words we will be exempt from the oath you imposed upon us.” The spies expressed serious concern over the exposure of their rescue plans. If anyone were to discover them, the spies would not even consider repaying any kindness to Rachav. Why was this of such major concern to them? How could this possibly justify their lack of appreciation for all Rachav had done on their behalf?
Apparently, although the spies were presently prepared to do everything in their power, these courtesies could never extend beyond Rachav’s immediate family. The Canaanite influence was so corruptive that it was absolutely necessary for every single member of these tribes to be destroyed and removed from the land. Therefore, if even one extra person was found in Rachav’s home, the rescue plan would necessarily be cancelled. Although Rachav truly deserved to be spared if she actively included any outsider in her salvation, she would willingly forfeit her privilege to remain alive in the land.
“And she said, ‘As your words say, so it is’ and she sent them and theyw ent. And she tied the scarlet rope in the window.” From the wording of this passage, it seems that the rope was tied immediately after the spies left the city. Although the invasion of Yericho wouldn’t take place for another few days, Rachav felt compelled to secure this sign as soon as possible.
This can be understood in light of our previous reflection on the sign of the scarlet thread. As we explained, this served as a profound indication of Rachav’s faith and devotion. Although she had exerted superhuman efforts to rescue the spies, all she received in exchange was a shaky commitment hinged upon a thin scarlet rope. As a display of faith she was expected to entrust her life in the hands of this rope! With full confidence and faith she must trust that the Jewish people will remember and take heed of the rope and all it represented.
Rachav did possess such faith, and, as an indication of this, she immediately affixed the rope to the window. Through this initial step, she displayed from the outset her total confidence in her Jewish brethren. They would, without question, notice this rope and respond favorably to its demand. Therefore, at the first possible moment she activated the rescue plan and secured everything in position for that great moment soon to arrive.
“And they went and came to the mountain and stayed there for three days until the pursuers returned. And the pursuers searched the entire road and did not find” It is apparent from the Scriptures that the mountain was a distance away from the road which meant that the search party could never have come near the spies. If so, what message does the passage convey by informing us of the lack of success in searching an empty road?!
Once again, it seems that Rachav’s credit is being displayed here. We realize that if one were to be concerned about the spies’ welfare, the only safe solution would be the mountain outside the city. Remember that these messengers were on a wild chase covering the entire road all the way to the Jordan. On the other hand the king had placed the spies on the wanted list with a heavy reward for anyone who saw them. Consequently, with the road unsafe and the city not an option, the mountain outside was the only solution. Yet after combing the entire path up to the Jordan the pursuers didn’t even consider the mountain a possibility. Apparently Rachav’s argument, albeit on the spur of a moment, was so convincing that no trace remained in the minds of the pursuers regarding the whereabouts of these people. They were undoubtedly foreigners to Rachav and, as she said, they left the city without revealing their intended destination.
“And the two men returned and descended the mountain, travelled and returned to Yehoshua Bin Nun, and conveyed to him all that found them.” In essence they related to Yehoshua all of their miraculous experiences. However, the words they used, “that found them” seem to convey a profound statement of faith. In truth, the spies were shocked to discover the perfect setting they encountered. It seemed to them, that everything had been prepared and was merely awaiting their arrival. Rachav, their only hope in the land, was on the verge of conversion and somehow their steps were miraculously directed straight into her home. The rest of their unbelievable experience followed naturally. They concluded from this that they were shown the results of perfect trust in Hashem. All He expects from us is to take that initial step and the remaining prearranged stages will be there awaiting us.
“And they said to Yehoshua ‘Hashem has delivered the land into our hands and all the inhabitants of the land have melted before us.'” The first part of their statement should have been sufficient motivation for the Jewish people to forge ahead in their conquest of the land. It was evident from all the experiences related by the spies that the road was paved for the Jewish nation’s entry. Hashem had obviously prepared every step of the smooth delivery of the land of Israel into Jewish hands. Why then was it necessary for the spies to add this aspect of the melting hearts of the land’s inhabitants?
It seems that the spies sought to convey to the Jewish people an important message. Many years earlier a select group of prominent leaders was dispatched on a similar mission. However, after viewing the land’s inhabitants, the group’s conclusion was quite different than the present one. The previous group viewed the land through a logical, physical perspective and concluded that it was nearly impossible to conquer. With this perspective in mind, their concerns and conclusions were well founded. After all, the Jewish people were physical beings and could easily be influenced by the towering stature of the inhabitants.
However, this group refused to take the same approach. They had recently witnessed the miraculous defeat of the two mighty powers Sichon and Og and were privileged to learn its effect on the Canaanite inhabitants. Knowing this they told the Jewish people that from every vantage point, physical included, there was nothing to fear. In addition to conceptually understanding that Hashem will deliver they saw tangible signs of this wherever they went. The Canaanites were truly petrified and dreaded the thought of the Jewish people’s arrival. With this additional information the spies convinced the Jewish people that nothing, literally nothing, stood in their way.
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Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie
3732 West Dempster
Skokie, Illinois 60076
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