Parshat Aharey Mot – Kedoshim
May 2, 2009
8 Iyar 5769
Amos concludes his prophetic message, found in this week\’s haftarah, on a messianic note with promises of overwhelming abundance: \”\’A time is coming\’, declares the Lord, \’ when the plowman shall meet the reaper, and the treader of grapes [shall meet] him who holds the [bag of] seed; when the mountains shall drip wine and all the hills shall wave [with grain].\’\” (Verse 13) In other words, the land will be so plentiful that there will be plenty left from the previous year when one plants for the coming year. No one will ever be left in need.
The idyllic situation expressed in this verse becomes the basis of a midrashic explanation for a curious phrase at the beginning of the story of Job. As you will recall, Job is the biblical character who behaves properly, is accordingly blessed, and then is tested by having all of his life blessings removed without explanation in order to see whether he will continue to be loyal to God. The first stage in Job\’s tragic situation is described in a curious verse which bears a resemblance to the above verse in Amos: \”The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; and the Sabeans made a raid and took then away.\” (Job 1:14) Certain sages noticed in this verse the fact that while the oxen were presumably plowing to prepare the field to be seeded there was still food in the field for the asses to eat. This seemed to them to reflect Amos\’s messianic vision.
The sages in the following midrash assumed that Job had sinned to warrant the punishment that he received. They used the textual anomaly, noted above, to extrapolate a provocative theological message: \”Rabbi Hunia and Rabbi Joshua ben Abin and Rabbi Zechariah, the son in law of Rabbi Levi, in the name of Rabbi Levi: said: \’The Lord of Mercy does not inflict suffering on human beings immediately [in one fell swoop]. From whose case do we learn this? From [the story of] Job, as it says: The oxen were plowing and the asses were feeding beside them; and the Sabean\’s made a raid and took them away. This informs us that the Holy One Blessed be He, showed him some of the nature of the world to come, as it is said: \’A time is coming\’, declares the Lord, \’ when the plowman shall meet the reaper\’. (See Vayikra Rabba 17:4 Margoliot ed. Pp. 378-382) This midrash then proceeds to tell the story of the tragedies that befell Job, taking measure to inform the reader that they happened gradually over time, concluding that God brought these tragedies on Job because of his sins. It assumes that God brought these troubles on Job gradually so as to encourage in him thoughts of teshuva (repentance), so that the process of punishment might be averted.
Obviously, the obstacles we face in life are not so simply explained nor can we so easily understand our interactions with God. But, all of us, at one point or another are blessed with bounty in some form and all of us are faced, at some stage, with an interruption in the flow of said bounty. This midrash seems to want to let us know that even this can be a blessing, if we use our own personal tragedies as a tool and turn them into a blessing. Life\’s setbacks can be turned into life\’s triumphs if we understand this message, take it to heart and renew ourselves.
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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