Parshat Aharei Mot-Kadoshim
April 20, 2002
Amos’ opening message is an indictment of those who are brazen enough to believe that there are no consequences to their sinful ways. Their complacency, he says, will turn out to be ill founded: “All the sinners of My people shall perish by the sword – those who boast: ‘Never shall the evil overtake us or come near us’” (Amos 9:10) This harsh message was aimed particularly at the leadership of the Northern kingdom which lead the people astray from God. In contrast to this message, Amos offers the hope that the kingdom will be restored with leadership capable of bringing dignity and prosperity to the nation: “In that day, I will set up again the fallen booth of David (sukkat David hanofelet)” (verse 11)
What does Amos mean when he refers to “the fallen booth of David”? Rashi interprets this obscure image to be a metaphor for the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy. Rabbi David Kimche, the 12th-13th century Provencal commentator, adds that this restoration will again unite the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judea under Davidic rule.
An earlier tradition, found in the Talmud, applies this verse to the messiah. We read the following obscure discussion: “Rav Nachman asked Rabbi Yitchak: “Have you heard when Bar Nifli will come?” Rabbi Yitzchak replied: “Who is Bar Nafli?” Rav Nachman answered: “The Messiah.” Rabbi Yitchak asked: “Do they really call the Messiah Bar Nafli?” Rav Nachman answered him: “Yes, as it is written: ‘On that day I will establish the booth of David (sukkat David) that is fallen (nofelet)’ (Amos 9:11) Rabbi Yitchak then replied to Rav Nachman: “This is what Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘In the generation when the son of David comes, Torah scholars will have decreased and as for the rest of the people, their eyes will be worn out from grief and anxiety. Troubles and decrees will come upon them anew. Before one trouble is over a second will appear.” (Sanhedrin 96b-97a – adapted from the Artscroll translation)
In this dialogue, Rav Nachman associates the name “bar Nafli” with the expression “nofelet – fallen” found in the verse from Amos. This association, based on the fact that these words sound similar, is not without irony since it is likely that the word “nafli” is derived from a Greek word meaning “cloud” – indicating a heightened spiritual nature (Steinsaltz). Rabbi Yochanan sees the Messiah as the one who will ultimately raise up “the fallen booth of David” which serves as a symbol for Israel’s dire spiritual and physical condition. The divine concern shown in this passage is meant to serve as a source of encouragement for the Jewish community in troubled times. There is no room for despair since God ensures that the picture will ultimately improve. This is an appropriate message to remember on this 54th birthday of the State of Israel.