02 January 2011

Protection and Its Deceits

on Joshua 2

I'm immediately struck by how all the characters in this story--whether or not they're Jewish--speak in the simple, poetic Hebrew that Joshua has inherited from the authors of Deuteronomy, who were clearly quite conscious of their need to make the grandness of the narrative attainable to the people.  In this way, Joshua continues with one particular Torah tradition--the decidedly democratic nature of Judaism.  We are all obligated, not just the Priests and Prophets.

In this chapter we are also introduced to Rahab, the famous prostitute who hides the Israelite spies as they cross into the Jericho region in order to scope out the land ahead of the Israelite conquest.  She herself exhibits an uncommon bravery, it would seem; on the other hand, as a prostitute, she's used to veiling truths, keeping secrets, satisfying demands.  That there is hiddenness and deceit involved in protecting the spies simply goes with the territory of the work.  As a careful observer of an historic reality around her, Rahab also cleverly recounts to the spies that she has heard about the Israelites escape from Egypt, their vanquishing of that empire, and their impending arrival back in the land God promised them.  And in embracing that narrative herself, seeks protection for her own family, which is promised to her by the spies.

They work out an arrangement that when they leave in the cover of night, Rahab will attach a scarlet thread to her window so that when the Israelites return for good, they will know that she has protected the early navigators and will therefore be saved.  The scarlet thread like the blood on the doorposts in Egypt; like the mezuzas with their protective texts, even like (though I really hesitate to climb aboard this rickety wagon of un-reason) the red kabbalah strings on the wrists of pilgrims at the DisKotel (nod to Y. Leibovitz.)

But even protection has its deceits, masking betrayals and future violence.  It seems to do the trick but only to assist in a temporary escape, a diversionary tactic, leaving for another time acts of reconciliation and peace.

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