Haftarah Parshat Kedoshim
April 26, 2014 / 26 Nisan 5774
This week’s haftarah marks the end of the book of Amos. His final prophecy is both cautionary and conciliatory. For the righteous remnant, the redemption will bring with it both peace and prosperity while the wicked will be vanquished. Amos’ description of the wicked deserving punishment is particularly revealing: “All the sinners of My people shall perish by the sword, who boast never shall the evil overtake us or come near us.” (9:10)
Rabbi David Kimche sums up the substance of this remark: “The wicked used to say: ‘evil (punishment) shall not overtake or come near on our account, [namely], they had no expectation of punishment, and therefore they behaved as they saw fit. They thought that if bad things would come they did not come on account of their deeds but were merely coincidental.” (adapted translation) Rabbi Yitzhak Abrabanel added: “but the wicked, each for their own individual wickedness will die… since they have no expectation of punishment.”
Amos’ message is twofold. It speaks to the substance of what makes a person evil. A sinner is not necessarily an evil person. Evil people, according to Amos, are those who think that there are no consequences to their actions and act accordingly without any regard for the implications of their deeds. Such individuals are known in the Jewish traditions as those who have no fear of Heaven (yirat Shamayim). In other words, such individuals act out of a sense that God disregards what happens in the world. It is for such individuals that Amos calls for poetic justice – just as said person denied retribution, so shall they taste what they deny.
Abrabanel seems to imply that much of this disregard is focused on a person’s over-glorification of his or her own self with total disregard for anything else. This self-deification sometimes leads people to deny the plausible consequences of their own actions. We live in an age where such overwrought concern for self is a real possibility. For some, it can mean disregard for those who are less well-off under the pretense that everyone must be responsible for themselves while ignoring what happens to those whom they deprive of basic needs while for others it can take the form of narcissistic self-obsession which make it impossible to build communities. Amos offers us, then, two alternatives, one God denying and destructive and the other with a focus on God and world building. It is obvious where redemption will be found.
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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