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Haftarah Parshat Vayeshev

Haftarah Parshat Vayeshev (Amos 2:6-3:8)
December 13, 2014 /21 Kislev 5775

Heschel is well known for having coined the term “radical amazement”. The prophet Amos might be called the prophet who challenged his fellows to become “radically aware”. It is no secret that Amos thought that the people of Israel were the “chosen people”: “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth – that is why I call you to account for all your iniquities.” (3:2) This singularity did not bring with it rank, but rather God’s special attentiveness to his people.

This attentiveness brought with it special obligations. If God is to be particularly discerning, then his subjects must also exhibit similar awareness. It was this quality that Amos saw was absent in the lives of his fellow citizens: “Can two walk together without having met? Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Does a great beast let out a cry from its den without having made a capture? Does a bird drop on the ground in a trap with no snare there? Does a trap spring up from the ground unless it has caught something? When a ram’s horn is sounded in the town, do the people not take alarm? Can misfortune come to a town if the Lord has not caused it? Indeed, my Lord God does nothing without having revealed His purpose to His servants the prophets.” (3:3-7)

These rhetorical questions were intended to raise the awareness of an audience which lacked perceptiveness. Amos’ imagery was taken from everyday life to make it clear to all how obvious God’s messages were intended to be. Their purpose was to raise people’s consciousness and to remind them that God’s messages in the world are often in plain sight for all to see. All that is required is “radical awareness” – the ability to see the world with the eyes of a poet and to cull lessons cultivated in God’s world. In this case the lesson is that every event has a cause and that every behavior has implications.

Amos moves us through the most common of events up the ladder to the realization of God’s role in the world. If one can see the poetic in the banal, one will ultimately realize the truths of reality. All we need to do is to open our eyes.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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