Haftarah Parshat Aharei Mot – Kedoshim
April 20, 2013
10 Iyyar 5773
In this week’s haftarah, Amos addressed the nation of Israel (the northern kingdom) on two different levels. On one level, he chastised them for their disloyalty to God, warning them of the dire consequences of their behavior. Still, prophets were not just bearers of reproof and doom; they were also messengers of hope amidst despair and harbingers of future redemption, so he left them with a message of hope as well.
Amos warned his people that God would exile them for their behavior and that only a small remnant of the people would be salvaged: “Behold, the Lord God has His eye on the evil nation. I will wipe it off the face of the earth. But I will not wholly wipe out the House of Jacob, declares the Lord. For I will give the order and shake the House of Israel through all the nations as one shakes [sand] in a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground. All the sinners of my people shall perish by the sword…” (8-9) Several lines later, at the very end of his prophecy, he leaves them with a message of ultimate consolation: “I (God) will restore My people Israel.” (14)
This message of consolation played an interesting role in a legal discussion in the Mishnah. It was unclear at some point whether Ammonites and Moabites could ever become a part of the Jewish people since the Torah prohibited their entry into the people. The Mishnah records the following debate over their status: “On that day, Judah an Ammonite convert, came and stood before them in the study house. He said to them [the sages], ‘Can I become a member of the community [of Israel]?’ Rabban Gamliel answered him: ‘You are prohibited.’ R. Joshua answered him: ‘You are permitted.’ Rabban Gamliel then said: ‘Scripture says: An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even in the tenth generation,\’ (Deut. 23:4) Rabbi Joshua replied to him: ‘Do Ammonites or Moabites still live in their own land? Sennacherib, king of Assyria, long ago marched up and mingled the nations, as it is said: I have removed the bounds of the nations, have plundered their treasures, and laid low the might of the inhabitants. (Isaiah 10:13)’ Rabban Gamliel responded to him: ‘Scriptures says: And afterwards I will return the captivity of the children of Ammon (Jeremiah 49:4) and [this indicates that] they have already returned.’ Rabbi Joshua replied: ‘[But] Scriptures [also] said: I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel [and Judah] (Amos 9:14) but [nevertheless we know that] they still have not returned; upon which they [the sages decided to] permit him [the Ammonite convert] to come into the congregation.” (Mishnah Yadayim 4:4)
Normally, the long delay in the fulfillment of the promise of the redemption of the people of Israel would be cause for concern. In the case of this Mishnah, however, it provided a means to prove that an ancient nation no longer existed as a distinct entity allowing those who identified with it a way to be accepted into the Jewish nation.
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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