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Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Kind Prostitute


Daf Yomi Chagigah 26

In the land of Canaan, there was once a harlot called Rahab.   She was a kind lady who had tragically fallen into a life of sin as she struggled to make ends meet.   Like many houses of ill-repute, her home masqueraded as a budget hotel.  And so one day, she had the good fortune of hosting two very important guests. 

Phineas and Caleb had been chosen by Joshua to scout out the country prior to the entry of the Children of Israel.  Staying at her inn, each day they would wander about, gathering intel.   One day, the king found out about her guests and their mission and sought to kill them.   Rahab decided to risk her own life and hid them, lying to the officers who came looking for them.

Before bidding them farewell, she made them promise that upon their reentry into the land, they would guarantee the protection and security of Rahab and her family.  Rahab eventually converted to Judaism, married the leader of our people, Joshua, and from that union descended eight prophets – Neriah, Baruch, Seraiah, Mahseiah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel, and Shalum. 

The Mishnah states: Tax-collectors who entered a house and thieves who returned utensils are trusted to say, ‘We did not touch the inside of the vessels, thereby defiling them.’

Asks the Gemara: Elsewhere, the Mishnah teaches, “Thieves who entered a house, wherever they walked is considered impure.”  Rashi explains: If where they walked is impure, how much more so the items they stole!

Rabbi Phineas, quoting Rava, answers: We are talking about a case where they repented.  Rashi explains: They returned the stolen goods due to their repentance and therefore we trust that they would not lie.

How many of us would trust a thief, even a repented thief?  Most people would consider him irredeemable.  He would be branded for life. 

Let’s say you’ve advertised a job opening.  You receive an applicant who has just been released from prison.  Would you consider him for the position?  Or would you dismiss him out of hand?  After all, who would trust an ex-con?

That’s not the Jewish way.  Our Sages would even trust the testimony of thieves who had repented!  Joshua, leader of Israel, was prepared to marry a former harlot when he saw how she had turned her life around!


Are you prepared to accept people as they are today?   Or before trusting them and befriending them, do you feel the need to scrutinize their school truancy record from thirty years ago?  We believe in teshuvah (repentance)!  We all make mistakes.  Everybody deserves a second chance.   If Joshua could trust Rahab; if our Sages could trust petty thieves; then you can trust an individual who has turned their life around and begun to reconstruct their reputation.