Haftarah Parshat Vayeshev
November 27, 2010
20 Kislev 5771
The opening chapters of the book of Amos are a veritable catalogue of the sins which brought about the downfall of Judah, Israel and the surrounding nations. Since Joseph was the forbearer of the northern kingdom, Israel, the beginning of this week\’s haftarah focuses on the sins of that nation. While it is uncanny how the various ways which people and nations find to sin seems to be constant over time, there are still some examples which are especially prescient at any given moment. One particular verse is prophetically striking in these days of economic woes: \”They recline on every altar on garments taken in pledge and drink in the House of their God wine brought with fines they imposed.\” (2:8)
Professor Shalom Paul points out that this verse does not refer to taking a person\’s clothing as collateral until payment. Rather, it refers to seizing property upon non-payment of a debt. The mishnah (Bava Metziah 9:13) supports this interpretation: \”A lender should not seize a pledge from another person except in court, and should not enter into another person\’s house to take a pledge.\” (Amos, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p.51) In other words, there is grave concern here that no one will stand up for the rights of the poor and that society might legitimate their abuse.
Amos\’ critique extends beyond the economic plight of the needy who are being taken advantage of. He is also bothered by the callousness of using the property of these poor people in the worship of God with the expectation that such behavior has God\’s tacit approval.(See A. Hacham, Amos, Daat Mikra, p. 13 unlike Radak)
The prophets frequently rail against such acts which reek of moral money laundering where God is used to attempt to legitimate wrong doing. The prophet wants such people to know that what they are doing is noticed and not validated. Amos warns that such corrupt behavior will ultimately lead to a society\’s downfall. The outward trappings of religion can never bring divine legitimacy to immoral acts.