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Devarim 20:16 reads:

טז. רַק מֵעָרֵי הָעַמִּים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה כָּל נְשָׁמָה׃

However, of these peoples' cities, which the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance, you shall not allow any soul to live.

Yet we see in Yehoshua 2:14-19 that the spies promised to save Rachav and her family.

How did they have authority to promise this?

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1 Answer 1

See Megilla 14b that Rachav converted to Judaism. The Malbim to 2:11 therefore explains that she was exempt for the command to be killed.

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all her family also converted? –  Danield Dec 30 '12 at 10:45
    
@Danield Some meforshim definitely say so but I'll have time to look it up tomorrow. –  Michoel Dec 30 '12 at 10:50
    
Still, when the spies promised to save her and her family, they stipulated some conditions....and converting wasn't one of them (at least it's not clearly mentioned in the psukim there) - so then the question would remain: how could they sware? –  Danield Dec 30 '12 at 10:53
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@Danield (a) Malbim on 2:12 says "והצלתם את נפשותינו ממות, שהמוטל עליכם להציל אותנו לבל נהרג ע"י אחרים, וגם רמזה שיצילו נפשותיהם ממש ממות הרוחני, במה שיגיירו אותם". So: yes, converting her family was also hinted at. (b) Malbim on 2:12 says "אמרה הגם כי אחר שתעברו את הירדן לא תחיו כל נשמה, עתה השבעו טרם עברתם את הירדן, שהיה להם רשות לקבל גרים המשלימים עמם", that they could swear so because the verse you quoted only applied after Benei Isra'el crossed the Jordan. Before that, they were obligated by Joshua's promise to accept those who wished to make peace with them. –  Tamir Evan Dec 30 '12 at 15:47
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@Danield The spies made Rachav promise not to tell anyone about their conversation (2:14). –  Michoel Dec 30 '12 at 20:19

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