Haftarah Parshat Vayeshev
November 23, 2013
20 Kislev 5774
The prophet Amos pins the downfall of the northern kingdom, Israel, on legal and political corruption: “Thus said the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of Israel, for four I will revoke it: because they have sold for silver those whose cause was just and the needy for a pair of sandals. Ah, you who trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the ground and make the humble walk a twisted course.’” (2:6-7) This societal critique rings true in almost every society in almost every age.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) explains the meaning of these verses this way: “Even though they have transgressed three sins – idolatry, sexual impropriety and the spilling of blood – their sentence was not sealed before Me (God) to destroy their land and to exile them at the hand of the king of Assyria except on account of theft, and this is the fourth [sin]. And for this God punished them for all that they did. This was also the case in the generation of the flood (the Noah story), where even though they had many sins on their hands, God did not punish them except on account of theft. And how much more serious [is the sin] when the theft comes at the hands of the judges, for it was their responsibility to establish justice, but instead, through bribes, they perverted justice.”
Kimche is drawn to associate the sins of the northern kingdom with those of the generation of the flood on account of the poetic opening of his indictment which talks of three and four transgressions. This opening, which is common to a string of similar charges brought by Amos against neighboring nations, recalls for Kimche three sins commonly associated with the generation of the flood – murder, sexual transgressions and idolatry. Still, according to the rabbinic tradition, the flood was brought on by the sin of theft. Amos also associates the downfall of Israel with this sort of sin.
Amos, like the sages of later generations, noted how destructive economic crimes were to the social fabric of society. Theft and the perversion of justice, on the personal as well as on the societal level, ruin any sense of solidarity between citizens and make it impossible to build a world where people depend on each other. When basic fairness cannot be expected, society unravels. Amos saw this happen before his own eyes. Kimche wanted us to know that injustice destroys not only communities, not only nations, but worlds as well.
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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