Parshat Aharei Mot
April 26, 2003
This week’s haftarah begins with a warning to the nations of Judah and Israel (separated from each other since the death of Solomon) not to be complacent about their relationship with God. It ends with a messianic vision of the restoration of the Jewish nation to its homeland and the blessings of bounty contained in these words: “A time is coming, declared the Lord, when the plowman shall meet the reaper, and the treader of grapes [shall meet] him who holds the [bag of] seeds; when the mountains shall drip wine and all the hills shall wave [with grain].” (Amos 9:13)
The language of this blessing is reminiscent of the blessings offered to the children of Israel in the Torah: “Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing…” (Leviticus 26:5) According to Rabbi David Kimche, the 13th century Provencal interpreter, the harvest will be so plentiful that people will still be gathering it until the time of the new planting.
This great physical blessing underwent a transformation in the following midrash. In this midrash, each segment of this prophecy becomes a vision of the social well-being of the future nation: “’Behold the day will come, said the Lord, that the plowman will overtake the reaper.’ (Amos 9:13) ‘plowman’ – refers to Judah… ‘reaper’ – refers to Joseph (another name for the kingdom of Israel)… ‘and the treader of grapes’ – this refers to Judah… ‘Him who holds the bag of seeds’ – this refers to Joseph… ‘When the mountains shall drip wine’ – this refers to the tribes of Israel. When the nations of the world take council against Israel it won’t matter. (adapted from Genesis Rabbah 93:5)
In this midrash, physical plenty is used as a metaphor for social cohesiveness. Just as planting and harvesting become as one in Amos’ messianic vision, so, too, will the various parts of the Jewish people join together as one. Amos’ vision of plenty becomes one of unity as well. It is interesting to note that the 3rd-4th century author of this midrash, who lived in Eretz Yisrael, saw this unity as the greatest remedy to the external threats which faced the Jewish people. He thought that if the Jewish people were united they would have nothing to fear from the council of their enemies. I might also add to his conjecture that this unity is also integral to the blessings of prosperity as well. In these days when the threats to the Jewish state are social and economic as well as physical, this last point is especially worth heeding.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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