Haftarah Parshat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim (Amos 9:7-15)
April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar 5775 in Israel
May 2, 2015 / 13 Iyar 5775 outside of Israel
Is God’s concern universal or particular? Does God show favorites? These questions seem to be the focus of Amos’ final prophecy when he says rhetorically: “To Me, O Israel, you are just like the Ethiopians, declared the Lord. True, I brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.”
Targum Yonaton, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, sees this verse as an approbation of God’s love for Israel: “Are you not thought of as beloved children before Me (God), children of Israel? Did I not bring up Israel out of Egypt and the Philistines from Caphtor and Aram from Kir? Behold, before the Lord God, the sinful deeds of the nations are revealed and and I will destroy them from the face of the earth… but I will not completely destroy the House of Jacob.” Along these lines, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra views this opening verse as a statement of how Israel is different from the other nations. The other nations do not have pure lineage, but people of Israel are the children of God and remain a distinctive nation. Rabbi Joseph Kara sees this verse as a sign of God’s love for Israel in expectation that Israel will fulfill His will.
Rashi, on the other hand, views this verse as a warning to Israel that if they do not repent of their sinful ways, the consequences of their actions will be similar to those of other sinful nations. God seemingly wants to rebuff those who argue for national superiority or Divine preference. This understanding seemingly contradicts one of Amos’ earlier prophecies: “Hear this word, O people of Israel, that the Lord has spoken concerning you, concerning the whole family that I have brought out of Egypt; You alone have I singled out of all of the families of the earth – that is why I call you to account for your iniquities.” (Amos 3:1-2)
So which is it? Is God especially concerned with Israel or is He concerned with Israel in the same way that He measures other nations? There is one common voice in both of these prophecies. In both passages, Amos attempts to root out the idea that the love shown to Israel in their redemption from Egypt exempts them from responsibility for their actions. Amos argues that whether Israel is viewed as exceptional or as part of a greater whole, it bears responsibility for its actions. (See A. Hacham, Amos, Daat Mikra, p. 72) God and the prophets would have it no other way.
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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