Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
AMOS CHAPTER 5
Amos Chapter 5 consists of two related prophecies: (1) vv 1-17 with a break after v 15 for a short concluding 2-verse Parshah Sethumah; this prophecy calls on Israel to repent before doom befalls them and analyzes their wrongdoing, foretelling the devastation and mourning that will come when God vents His anger; (2) Vv 18-27 warning that the day of doom will be worse than people imagine and calling on the people to repent in order to avoid going into exile.
The prophecies of Amos were directed to the people of his time, and having through our study of the historical portions of the Bible broadened our perspective on this period prior to the exile of the Ten Tribes and the destruction of the First Temple , we should be in a better position to understand the specific situation he was addressing. Yet as eternal prophecy from God, Amos' words apply to all of us until today. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov urges us to see ourselves and our own situation within every Torah lesson we study. We are therefore also bound to look deep into our own hearts and ask ourselves how Amos' prophecy can help us uncover our personal flaws and see what we can do to correct them.
In seeking to relate the message of Amos and his fellow prophets to the socio-political realities of the people of Israel today - both those in the land of Israel and those in the Diaspora - it might be tempting to identify those who continue to put Torah practice at the center of their lives with Judah, while the more assimilated and distant from the Torah tradition might be identified with the Ten Tribes. Many of the reproofs of Amos and his fellow prophets against the kingdom of Israel seem highly relevant to the Israel of today as well as to Diaspora communities. Yet such schemas must be employed only with the utmost caution since the God-created reality in which we live is infinitely more subtle and complex than our minds can comprehend.
V 1: The prophet calls upon the House of Israel - the entire people - to hear and attend to his sorrowful lament.
V 2: The apparent simple meaning of this verse is that the virgin of Israel has fallen and shall rise no more (LO THOSEEF KOOM). Israel was a "virgin" prior to falling under the influence and control of foreign masters. RaDaK (ad loc.) explains that this is a prophecy that the Ten Tribes would go into exile, as indeed they did in the days of Hoshea ben Elah at the hand of the king of Assyria, and they still have not returned because Judah alone returned to Jerusalem from Babylon but not the Ten Tribes. However RaDaK is at pains to emphasize that the Ten Tribes are destined to return in time to come, as prophesied by several prophets. RaDaK thus brings examples from elsewhere of the same root LO YASAF used in the sense of someone not adding any more to do something for a certain period of time, whereas in fact they did indeed do it again later on (II Kings 6:23; ibid. 24:7 and Jer. 37:5). Thus Israel may not have risen yet, but she will! This agrees with the rabbinic interpretation of this verse in Talmud Berachos 4b: "She has fallen but she will not continue to fall any more; Arise O virgin of Israel". This interpretation is consistent with the rabbinic approach of uncovering the good that lies buried within apparently negative phrases.
V 3: The prophet warns of the literal decimation of the cities and towns of Israel .
V 4: "For thus says HaShem to the House of Israel: Seek Me and you shall live". These words are the foundation of the entire Torah - and are seen as such in the Talmudic passage in Maccos 23b: "Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses. David came and reduced them to eleven principles. Then Amos came and reduced them all to one foundation, 'Seek Me and live'". The way to seek out God is through constant study of His Torah in order to understand His will, and through constant prayer to Him to help us fulfill it.
V 5: Beith El and Gilgal were the sites of idolatrous worship. There was no idolatry in Be'er-Sheva, but once people had come up from the south and passed Be'er-Sheva, they were on the road to Beith El (Rashi).
V 6: The prophet repeats his call to repent, warning of the doom that will befall the people and their idols if they do not.
V 7: The main sin that is bringing on this doom is the corruption of justice and the failure to practice charity and kindness. The people have overturned God's intention.
V 8: The prophet now brings examples of how God turns things around from one extreme to the other. The rabbis said that the stars of the Pleiades (the "tail" of Aries) have a chilling effect while those of the constellation of Orion bring heat to the world, and both are necessary for the growth of fruits. The people should have learned from God to turn things around for the benefit of the world and not to overturn justice (RaDaK).
V 9: In vengeance for the people's overturning justice, God will strengthen the weak enemies and bring them against the mighty nation.
V 10: The people refuse to heed the words of the prophets.
Vv 11-12: The corruption of justice and oppression of the poor by the powerful and wealthy will be punished with the loss of their fine mansions and charming orchards and vineyards.
V 13: On the day of doom the wise person will be silent - he will not question God's attribute of Justice because the people are guilty of all these sins (Rashi).
Vv 14-15: The prophet again calls on the people to repent in the hope that they will listen, so that God will mitigate the harsh decree.
Vv 16-17 are a PARSHAH SETHUMAH concluding the previous prophecy, telling of the terrible mourning that will reign in all the towns and streets and in the very orchards when the evil decree strikes.
Verse 18 opens a new PARSHAH PETHUHAH - a new prophecy - which continues until the end of the chapter v 27. "Woe to you that DESIRE the day of HaShem": This is addressed to those who mocked the prophets' warnings of coming doom, sarcastically saying "Let Him hurry and hasten His work" (Isaiah 5:19; Rashi).
Vv 19-20 warn that the coming doom will be far more terrible than these sinners imagined.
Vv 21-23 condemn the people for the emptiness of their religious assemblies and their sacrifices. Their ritual music does not please God.
V 24-5: The essentials that God wants are Justice and Charity. Mere sacrifice without inner repentance is not what God asks.
V 26: The people are warned that they will carry their idols with them into exile. "Kiyyun" mentioned in this verse is a reference to the cult of Shabbetai=Saturn, which is called by this name in Arabic and Persian (RaDaK). It has indeed been suggested that aspects of this cult were involved in Sabbeteanism, to which some modern scholars trace the origins of the assimilation that has overtaken the Jewish people in recent centuries.
V 27: "I will cause you to go into exile beyond Damascus ". Until now, the kingdom of Israel had suffered mainly from Aram with its capital in Damascus , but the coming exile under Sennacherib was to take the Ten Tribes much further afield.
Chapter 6 makes up one prophecy that starts with a PARSHAH PETHUHAH (vv 1-10) followed by a PARSHAH SETHUMAH (vv 11-14).
V 1: "Those who are at ease in Zion " refers to Judah , while "those who trust in Mt Shomron" are the Ten tribes. They were named "chief among the nations" - they were intended to be separate from them - but instead they have assimilated.
V 2: The prophet asks the people to look at the great contemporary powers of the day - Kalne=Babylon, Hamat=Antioch, and Gath was the most powerful of the Philistine cities - and consider if their territories are really so superior to the land God gave Israel that they feel they want to be like the foreign nations.
V 3: The people are simply bringing nearer the evil day when they will dwell in the seat of violence - under Esau (Rashi; cf. Ovadiah 1:10).
V 4 depicts the affluence of the wicked people who have made comfort and the satisfaction of appetite the center of their lives.
V 5: Just as today, there was a plethora of self-infatuated singers and musicians to entertain the comfortable people.
V 6: Nobody felt pain over the destruction looming over the Ten Tribes under the leadership of Ephraim (=Joseph).
Vv 7-10 depict the coming doom in chilling detail.
Vv 11-12 warn of the utter destruction that awaits the kingdom of Israel on account of the corruption of justice.
V 13: "They who rejoice over nothing, saying, 'Have we not taken horns for ourselves through our own strength?'" This seems to typify the aggressive shopping-mall, entertainment-center-based culture of our times.
V 14: The enemies will afflict Israel all the way "from the entrance of Hamath" - i.e. the extreme north east of Israel - "up to the river of the Aravah="the brook of Egypt" in the extreme south west of Israel (Rashi) - i.e. across the entire Land.
MAY GOD TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM AND RESTORE US TO OUR LAND AND BUILD HIS TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM QUICKLY IN OUR TIMES. AMEN.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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