This week we will read a particularly dramatic portion in the Torah, the story of the spies Moses sent across the Jordan to reconnoiter the Promised Land. Twelve of them all princes. Twelve tribes, twelve spies. Each one a prominent man from a leading family.
A whole month they roamed through Canaan, even bringing back samples of the lands produce. Emblematic of the agricultural prosperity they found was the giant grape cluster, so big it had to be carried by two men on a pole. How the peoples mouths watered to see such plenty, after two years in the desert. Here truly was the fertile crescent of the Middle East.
But the spy-princes also brought a report that struck dismay into their peoples hearts. They spoke of walled cities, of warlike tribesmen, of forbidding fortresses. Such a country would be too strong to conquer, they said. That was the majority opinion of the spies, ten out of twelve.
A minority opinion differed. Two spies, Caleb and Joshua, said in effect With G-ds help we can do it. We can take this country. They got drowned out. As if to underscore the crisis, a group of Israelites tried to mount an attack, and were defeated. Result? 38 more years in the desert.
But thats not the end of the story. Yes, the peoples lack of faith condemned them to wander until the slave generation died off. But the Haftorah, the companion reading from the Book of Joshua, tells a different story. Of all the original 12 spies, just two were still alive the hopeful minority, Caleb and Joshua. Joshua was now the leader of the people, having succeeded Moses. And Caleb was growing old. But when Joshua sent just two spies to reconnoiter Jericho, according to the commentaries one of them was Caleb, no longer a ruling prince, and his partner was only 18 years old. The two of them do all their spying in the house of a woman named Rahab. Maybe her house was an inn, and maybe she offered a different kind of hospitality, depending on how we translate the word zonah which is how the text identifies her. But she provides the two spies with just the information they need. She also hides them from the Security Officers of Jericho, and lets them down from her window in the city wall, on a scarlet cord. In return they promise that if she just hangs that scarlet cord in her window they will make sure no harm comes to her or her family when the Israelites invade.
Of course the final result of this second spy story is Joshuas triumph, when the shofar is blown and the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.
Re-reading these stories this year, I recall once discussing a movie treatment I wrote called The Scarlet Cord with producer Marvin Mirisch. He and his brothers made some good pictures, but unfortunately they decided not to make that one. So this year, once again, we can all read the story and maybe imagine their contemplated cast, Yul Brynner as Joshua and Gina Lollobrigida as Rahab!