Haftarah Parshat Aharei Mot- Kedoshim
May 6, 2017 / 10 Iyar 5777
This brief haftarah of eight sentences completes the book of Amos. It seemingly contains two diametrically opposite messages. It begins by reminding the people that when it comes to improper behavior, their special status as God’s chosen will not allow them to avoid punishment. (7-10) This message is followed immediately by a vision of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and the reestablishment of the nation in its own homeland under idyllic conditions which will reign in perpetuity. This lack of symmetry in Amos’ message has led some modern scholars to assert that the later message must be an addendum appended to the book so that it might end on a positive note. (S. Paul notes that this is the point of view of the infamous 18th-19th century German Bible critic, Julius Wellhausen. See Amos, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 144-5)
Paul rejects this position, noting that it is not atypical of the classical prophets to rail against the societal wrongs that they saw, warning of their consequences and challenging the people to mend their ways. Since their purpose was not simply to “prophesy” the downfall of the nation, it should not be surprising that a prophet might conclude with a prophecy of renewal as well. (Paul offers as an example this very phenomenon in the messages of the prophet Hosea 14:2-9.)
So, too, we find that earlier commentators offered tenable literary and religious links between the two passages mentioned above. Just as one example which seems to have influenced a great many others, we find that the Targum Yonathan, the seventh century Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, reads the two sections as a seamless continuum: “For behold I command and I will winnow the House of Israel from among the nations like one who sifts in a sieve without letting a single stone fall to the earth. All of the guilty of my people will fall by the sword, those who say the evil will not overtake me and bad will not overtake us. (9-10)” It then moves into the next verse, using the previous verse as a precondition for the restoration: “On that day, I will reestablish the kingdom of the fallen House of David and I will build cities and establish meeting places and it will rule in the entire kingdom and much of the camp will have been destroyed but it will be rebuilt and established as of old.” (12)
It appears obvious here that the reading of “scholars” like Welhausen was colored by their preconceptions. He was particularly interested in the destruction of the “old Israel” and not in its reestablishment since he was convinced that Judaism needed to be replaced by his “successor” religion. This, however, was not Amos’ intention. He was clearly interested in his people’s welfare and their return to right ways and to God.
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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