July 15, 2024
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Parshat Vayeshev

The charge of every navi is to bring Hashem’s word to the people. More often than not, the message to be delivered is one meant to urge the nation to improve their ways and return to the moral standards demanded of them. It is understandable, therefore, that so many of our haftarot are filled with harsh words and severe admonitions aimed at a sinful generation, in the hope that the raw descriptions of their sins and the dire predictions of their fate would move them to repent. But few prophecies can match the passion and conviction found in the words of the navi Amos that we read this week.

Amos is described as a simple herder who was chosen by God to serve Him and the people. As such, he understood well the suffering of the common man and the poor who were oppressed by the heavy hand of the wealthy and the nobility. This might be why he was chosen to deliver God’s message to the sinful northern kingdom of Israel even though he himself may have been from the southern kingdom of Yehuda (although Tekoa is mentioned in Divrei HaYamim as a Judean city situated near Beit Lechem, the Radak claims it was to be found in the north, a part of the tribe of Asher). This also might be why, at the end of this selection, he seems to be explaining to the people why he, a simple herdsman, is suddenly condemning and criticizing them. His final words in the haftarah answers their question: “Hashem Elokim diber—mi lo yinaveh?” “If Hashem speaks—who can help but prophesy?”

In this haftarah as well as throughout his book, Amos focuses on the ill-treatment of the less fortunate. In doing so, he condemns Israel “al michram bakesef tzadik” for selling the innocent, a clear criticism of those who bribe judges to convict the not-guilty. Nonetheless, our chachamim see in these words a not-so-subtle reference to the sale of Yosef by his brothers found in this parsha, especially as Chazal refer to Yosef as a “tzadik.”

Although the haftarah is replete with the description of Israel’s many sins, I find most illuminating the powerful words of Amos: “Rak etchem yadati mikol mishpichot ha’adama—I loved you alone above all other families,” “al ken efkod aleichem et kol avonoteichem—and I therefore will hold you accountable for all your sins.” Our close relationship with Hashem does not give us a “free-pass” in this world, but rather obligates us even more than others to live up to His expectations.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

 

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