May 6, 2006
The prophets capture in their messages divine insights into the predicaments of their nation. In the first part of his prophecy, Amos speaks of the consequences of the sinfulness of the nation. He councils: \”For I will give the order and shake the House of Israel through the nations as one shakes [sand] through a sieve, and not a pebble will fall to the ground.\” (verse 9). This promise of punishment is answered, in kind, with a message of hope in the second half of this prophecy. This scattering of the nation, as if they were passed through a sifter, is countered by God\’s ultimate promise: \”I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; they shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them (untanteem) upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them, said the Lord God.\” (verses 14-15)
The commentaries seem to marvel over the imagery of the people of Israel being \”planted\” in its homeland and almost all of them quote the words of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) who elaborates on this image: \”And I will plant them on their land like a tree that will not move from its place and thus I will bring them and plant them and thus I will nurse them.\” Rabbi Joseph Kara (13th century France) avers in one word: \”Forever.\”
These interpretations are probably based on a midrash from the period of the Mishnah, where the sages group this verse along with others which use the verb \”nata\” to elucidate its meaning when used at the end of the \”Song of the Sea\” in Exodus: \”\’You [God] will bring them in and plant them\’ (Ex. 15:17) – a planting which will not be plucked up, as it says: \’And I [God] will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up\’ (Jer. 24:6), and its says: \’And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall be plucked up no more.\’ (Amos 9:15)\” (Mechilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael Shirta 10 Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 149)
Professor Judah Goldin points out in his commentary to this passage that the use of this verb implies permanence. He cites an example from the Shabbat Musaf Amidah, Tikkanta Shabbat: \’ yehi ratzon… shetaalenu besimchah leartzenu vetitaenu b\’gvuleinu – may it be your will… that you bring us up in joy to our land and plant us in its borders\’ only then, \’ naaseh lefanecha et korbanot hovoteinu – we do offer before You our sacrifices.\’ Similarly, he points out a midrash (Pesikta Rabbati 8a) which describes nails as \”netuim\” in these words: \’nails are driven in (netuim) like the roots of trees are well planted, hard to uproot.\” (Goldin. The Song of the Sea, p. 41)
Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher (1st century C.E.) spiritualizes the meaning of this verb as used in these verses: \”The mind which truly loves God, that has the vision of Him, He \’plants in\’ as a branch of goodly birth, and He deepens its roots to reach eternity and gives it fruitfulness for the acquisition and enjoyment of virtue… that the saplings of God\’s culture may not be for a day but age-long and immortal. (Preliminary Studies, 56f. [Loeb, iv, 487]) (Goldin, pp. 232-3)
Whether it be our physical fate as inhabitants of Eretz Israel or our spiritual well-being, may we share in the blessing of being well-rooted and not easily moved from either our homeland or our eternal faith.
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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