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Shabbat Parashat Shelach 5773

Parashat Hashavua: Converting the Land

Harav Yosef Carmel

This week’s haftara tells of the sending of spies to the city of Yericho. We will try to understand why this city was chosen as the first to be conquered by Bnei Yisrael as they crossed the Jordan and entered the Land. There are other questions that beg to be asked. Why did the spies find themselves specifically at the house of Rachav, the zona? Why did the city, after its conquest, become forbidden to be rebuilt?

The first question can be dealt with on a straightforward level. Yericho was situated close to the crossing region of the Jordan, and in that way stood as a gateway to the Land as a whole. Midrash Tanchuma (B’haalotcha 18) indeed calls it the lock of the Land, and explains the reasoning that “if Yericho is conquered, the Land is conquered.” Yet, the other questions remain unanswered.

A spiritual approach will provide a deep answer for all the questions. The Land of Israel is a holy land, and as the mishna (Mikvaot 8:1) says, it is pure. This status began when Yehoshua Bin Nun brought the nation into the Land, turning the Land of C’na’an into Eretz Yisrael. This was not a geographical or a political change but a spiritual one.

C’na’an, the person, was the partner of his father, Cham, in the horrible act that was done to Noach when the latter was drunk (Bereishit 9:21-22). Whether it was castration or sodomy (see Rashi ad loc.), it was certainly an act that contradicted a life of sanctity and purity. About such a lifestyle, Chazal already taught us through the plans of Bilam: “The G-d of this nation hates promiscuity. Let me give you advice: ‘put up partitions and place in them zonot’” (Sanhedrin 106a).

Yehoshua’s spies came to the house of Rachav, the local zonah, and the result was that she repented and converted. She, who had represented the situation of the Land before Bnei Yisrael entered it, now represented the transformation of the Land into Eretz Yisrael. The city, then, had to remain in its destroyed form to symbolize the transformation. Rebuilding it could be understood as an attempt to return to the ways of the Land before the spies came to Yericho. The mound of ruins in the gateway to the country needed to announce before those who entered: “This is the Land of Israel, not the Land of Cham and C’na’an,” prompting Yehosua’s ban and curse on the rebuilding.

A strong indication of the above thesis can be found in Melachim. The wicked kings that sprouted up learned from and imported wives from the neighbors. The most notorious of these wicked queens was Izevel, wife of Achav and princess of the Tziddonim, descendants of the firstborn of C’na’an. She was well known in the field of promiscuity, and her worship involved it (see Melachim I 22:38). It thus should not come as a surprise that Achav’s friend Chiel is the one who built the ruins of Yericho. This is mentioned after the navi says that Achav worshipped Asheira, the female element of the worship of the Ba’al (ibid. 16:33).

If we want to hold on securely to the Land, we should try to ensure that it be treated like the Land of Israel and not the Land of C’na’an.

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