The prophet Amos was a wealthy cattle farmer and cultivator of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14). He came from the city of Tekoa in the territory of the tribe of Asher (see RaDaK on Amos 7:10). He received Torah from the prophet Hosea and was an older contemporary of the prophets Isaiah and Michah (Pesachim 87a).

Amos prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah king of Judah and Yerav'am son of Yo'ash king of Israel , both of whom succeeded in restoring the power and prosperity of their respective kingdoms and subduing the rebellious neighboring subject peoples. While Amos prophesied against the gentile nations as well, his prophecies were mainly directed against Israel and the moral decline that had set in as exemplified by the exploitation of the poor and weak by the wealthy and powerful. Amos encountered fierce opposition, and was mocked by his contemporaries as a stammerer (Vayikra Rabbah 1:2). His name, from the Hebrew root AMAS meaning to carry a heavy load, has the connotation of being of heavy tongue (cf. Rabbi Nachman's story of the Beggar who could not speak). However, the rabbis enumerated Amos among eight "princes of men" together with Yishai (Jesse), Saul, Samuel, Zephaniah, Tzedekiah, Elijah and Messiah.

Verse 1: Amos prophesied "two years before the earthquake". This "earthquake" was the natural and/or moral earthquake that took place when King Uzziah of Judah offered incense in the Temple Sanctuary (which was strictly forbidden for any non-priest). This earthquake is mentioned in Isaiah 6:4 and Zechariah 14:5.

Verse 2: The "roar" of God is the prophetic message of reproof emanating from the Holy of Holies, causing mourning in the "pastures of the shepherds" - these are the doomed kings - and the destruction of their strongholds (Targum Yonasan, Rashi).

These two introductory verses are followed by a series of six short parallel prophesies of doom against the six chief neighboring kingdoms of the time around Israel, Damascus (=Aram, Syria), Gaza and the Philistines, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab, before the prophet turns his main focus to Judah and especially Israel. Each of the following prophesies against the nations is a separate PARSHAH PETHUHAH in itself.

Verse 3: "Thus says HaShem: For three transgressions of Damascus I will turn away its punishment, but for the fourth I will not turn away its punishment". The commentators explain that the principle underlying this verse and the parallel verses later in this chapter and the next (Amos 1:6, 9, 11 & 13 and 2:1, 4 & 6) is that expressed in Job 33:29: "Lo, God does all these things twice or three times with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit.": God does not punish a person for the first, second and third sin he commits but only for the fourth sin and those afterwards (Rashi, RaDaK; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:5). While God does not normally exact payment from the nations for their evil except if it is very severe, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, He does take exception to the evil they perpetrate against Israel (RaDaK).

RaDaK lists three major evils perpetrated by Damascus (= Aram ) against Israel - in the time of Baasha king of Israel , in the time of Ahab and in the time of Yeho-ahaz son of Yehu. The fourth sin was their attack on Judah in the reign of Ahaz (II Kings 10:32), after which they were punished for all their past evil by being taken into exile by Ashur.

Vv 4-5: Amos' prophecy of the punishment of Aram was delivered sixty-five years before it took place.

Vv 6-8: The commentators explain the sin of Gaza and the Philistines in "carrying away into exile a whole captivity to deliver them up to Edom" as referring to what they did at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, when they handed over to Titus and his armies (=Edom) the many Jews who were trying to flee from them through Philistine territories (RaDaK).

Vv 9-10: The people of Tyre also handed escaping Jews over to the Romans at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, forgetting the "covenant of brothers" that had existed between King Solomon and Hiram king of Tyre (I Kings 5:26; Rashi, RaDaK).

Vv 11-12: Edom too "pursued his brother with the sword. and he kept his wrath for ever": This refers to the pursuit by Esau (=Edom) of his brother Jacob, the refusal of the Edomites to allow Moses and the Children of Israel to pass through their territory on the way to Israel (Numbers 20:14ff) and to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. The town of Basra mentioned in v 12 cannot be identified with Basra in Iraq , but was a town between Moab and Edom southeast of the Dead Sea (see Rashi on v 12; cf. Genesis 36:33).

Vv 13-15: The Ammonite territories lay east of Gil'ad, the territory of the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menasheh east of the Jordan , into which the Ammonites constantly sought to encroach in defiance of the Biblical curse against those who encroach on their neighbor's boundaries (Deut. 27:17).


The conventional chapter break here is somewhat arbitrary although it does fall at the beginning of a new Parshah Pethuhah containing the prophecy against Moab . But this must be taken together with the preceding prophecies of doom against the other nations, all of which come as an introduction to Amos' prophecies against Judah and Israel, as if to say: since God punishes the other nations, to whom He did not reveal Himself, how much more must He chastise his chosen people Israel, who are much nearer to Him (see RaDaK on Amos 3:2).

Vv 1-3: Moab's sin of "burning the bones of the king of Edom into lime" is explained by the commentators as referring to the incident in II Kings 3:27 when the Moabite king burned the firstborn son of the king of Edom, causing Edomite fury against Judah (with whom Edom was forced to fight against Moab) from then on (RaDaK).

Vv 4-5: While the nations are punished for their evil and treacherous behavior against Israel , Judah is taken to task for despising God's Torah - for every person is judged according to his level, and the same applies to each nation. While the kingdom of Israel were also guilty of despising the Torah, the people of Judah were particularly criticized for this since the authoritative Torah scroll was kept in the Temple, which was in their territory. From the fact that the "rediscovery" of the Torah scroll by Hilkiah the High Priest in the reign of Josiah (II Kings 22:8) caused such a great stir, we can infer the degree of previous neglect of the Torah (RaDaK).

Vv 6-16: A new Parshah Pethuhah opens at verse 6 detailing the sins of Israel : "because they have sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of shoes." (v 6). While the Israelites were guilty of the three cardinal sins of idolatry, murder and adultery, it was their corruption of justice that sealed their fate. The very judges and leaders took bribes to pervert justice at the expense of the righteous, poor and downtrodden, as detailed in vv 6-8.

In the same way as Hosea contrasted God's mercies to Israel with their disloyalty and betrayal, Amos recounts how God gave them the land of the Canaanites and blessed their children with prophetic spirit, expecting them to adhere to a higher standard of behavior (vv 9-11). But the people gave the Nazirites (=their teachers, Targum) wine to drink so that they would not be able to give legal rulings (cf. Lev. 10:9-11) and they told the true prophets to stop prophesying (cf. Amos 7:12). Amos warns that these sins will completely undermine the strength of the nation (vv 13-16).

Amos 2:6-16 and 3:1-8 are read as the Haftara of Parshas VAYEISHEV in Genesis, read in November-December, narrating the sale of Joseph by his brothers, corresponding to the sin of selling the righteous for silver (Amos 2:6).




By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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