Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
AMOS CHAPTER 7
The last prophecies of Amos in the closing section of the book (Amos 9:11-15) speak of the final redemption and restoration, but before that, from the beginning of chapter 7 until 9:10, he recounts in a succession of short parshahs a progression of five prophetic images of the coming doom.
Rambam (Maimonidies) writes of such prophetic images as follows:
"The things that are made known to the prophet in a prophetic vision are made known to him by means of a metaphor. During the actual vision, the meaning of the metaphor is immediately inscribed in his heart and he knows what it signifies, as in the case of the ladder seen by Jacob our father with the angels ascending and descending: this was a metaphor for subjugation to the empires.. The same applies in the case of the 'beasts' seen by Ezekiel, Jeremiah's 'seething pot' and 'almond rod', the scroll seen by Ezekiel and the Eiphah-measure seen by Zechariah. Some of the prophets recount both the image and its meaning, while others only tell the interpretation, or in some cases only the metaphor without the interpretation as in certain passages in Ezekiel and Zechariah. And they all prophesied through metaphors and riddles." (Rambam Yesodey HaTorah 7:3).
1. Amos 7:1-3: Image of the plague of locusts.
"Thus HaShem God showed me. KO HEER'ANI ADNY YKVK" (the Hebrew NIKUD, vocalization of YKVK in this verse is with the vowels of ELOKIM). In this verse, KO signifies the lens or looking glass of Malchus - "like this, so" (introducing the prophetic MASHAL or metaphor). HEER'ANI means "He showed me". The two names of God in this verse are ADNY, signifying His attribute of Malchus, together with YKVK (with the NIKUD of ELOKIM=Gevurah, might), signifying BINAH. The junction of Malchus and Binah signifies that the decree has been made by the BEIS DIN SHEL MAALAH, "the Heavenly Court", and is to be executed by the BEIS DIN SHEL MATA, "the court below" (Shaarey Orah Gate 8).
The image of the locust as the destroyer who consumes everything is reminiscent of the prophecy of Joel ch's 1-2. Amos stands up and pleads with God to revoke this decree of absolute destruction and God repents.
2. Vv 4-6: Image of judgment by fire. This prophetic metaphor is introduced by the same formula as in the previous metaphor: "Thus HaShem God showed me." Once again Amos stands and pleads with God to revoke the decree because the people will be unable to survive, and God repents.
3. Vv 7-9: Image of the builder's plumb line - used to ensure that the wall is built exactly perpendicular. This indicates the strict line of Judgment whereby nothing is overlooked or forgiven (Rashi). The prophet sees ADNY - the attribute of Judgment -- "standing" on the wall holding the plumb line. The rabbis interpreted this as a sign that the Divine Presence was leaving the Temple stage by stage. They listed ten separate "journeys" of the Shechinah - from the cover over the Ark of the Covenant to the Keruvim (angelic figures), from there to the threshold of the House, then out to the Temple courtyard, onto the altar, onto the roof, from the roof to the wall (our verse is the proof-text for this "journey" to the wall), from there out to the city, from there to the mountain, then on to the wilderness before rising and sitting in her place.. (Rosh HaShanah 31a).
Verse 9 speaks of the destruction of the high places of "YIS-HAK" (=Isaac). What is unusual in this verse is not so much that YIS-HAK is spelled with a letter SIN in place of TZADE (cf. Jeremiah 33:26) but that almost uniquely in all the prophets, Israel are here called the children of Isaac (cf. Amos 7:16) whereas usually they are called only the children of Jacob/Israel since Abraham and Isaac both had other sons who were not ancestors of Israel. RaDaK (ad loc.) suggests that Amos was contrasting the behavior of Isaac - who was bound on the altar to do God's will - with that of his descendants, who flouted His will with their high places.
Amos concludes the prophecy of the builder's plumb line by foretelling the destruction of the HOUSE of Jeraboam II (son of Joash and the grandson of Jehu ben Nimshi) by the sword.
Vv 10-17: Amatziah the idolatrous priest of Beith El denounces Amos to king Jerabo'am II as a traitor for prophesying that he would be killed. Amatziah lied to Jerabo'am, because Amos had not prophesied that Jerabo'am himself would fall by the sword but that his HOUSE would fall - alluding to the killing of Jerabo'am's son Zechariah by Shalem ben Yaveish. The rabbis praised Jerabo'am for not accepting this slander (Pesachim 87b).
Amatziah contemptuously tells Amos to flee to Judah and collect bread from people in reward for his prophecies.
Amos answers Amatziah, "I am no prophet neither am I a prophet's son." (v 14). Rashi ad loc. explains: "I am not one of your false prophets who takes a fee for prophesying. I have no need for all this and I have never practiced this, because I am wealthy with herds and property." "I was a dresser (BOLEIS) of sycamore trees." (v 20). Rashi here says the correct Hebrew word should be BOLEISH (searching like a BALASH, "detective", for the best trees to cut down) but that Amos was a stutterer (see commentary on Amos 1). So was Moses, and so was Rabbi Nachman's hero, the Beggar who could not speak - because his words were so exalted that people in this world could not understand what he was saying.
Amos curses Amatziah - among other things, he will die on impure land - i.e. in exile. From here the rabbis taught that all who are buried in the Land of Israel are as if they were buried under the Temple Altar (Kesubos 111a).
Chapter 8 opens with the fourth of Amos' prophetic images, the basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:1-3). The figs and dates used to be put aside to dry in the hot summer sun and are called KAYITZ. As in many cases in such prophetic images, the interpretation is linguistically bound up with the metaphor: thus KAYITZ alludes to the KEITZ=end. The happy songs of idolatry will be replaced with howling and mourning, and the dead bodies will be so many that those dealing with them have to hush each other in order to prevent everyone from breaking down in helpless weeping.
Vv 4-8 are a separate PARSHAH PETHUHAH explaining that the root cause of the coming doom is the injustices of the wealthy and powerful, who are heartlessly squeezing the poor - hoping that food will be scarce, whether through the intercalation of an extra month in the calendar causing a late Pesach Omer offering, or after the end of the Sabbatical year, in order to jump up prices. "To decrease the measure and increase the shekel and falsify the balances of deceit" (v 5) - i.e. smaller quantities for higher prices, and deceit everywhere. This also typifies the modern economy as far as the poor are concerned. This is why enemies will sweep away the people like a massive flooding river that washes over the land sweeping everything away.
Vv 9-10 are a separate PARSHAH PETHUHAH. "I will cause the sun to go down at noon" (v 9). Rashi explains that the downfall would come suddenly at a time of great peace, referring this prophecy to the killing of King Josiah by Pharaoh Necho when the latter marched his armies through Israel on his way to Assyria . According to this interpretation, this prophecy is directed at Judah just as much as at Israel .
"And I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation." (v 10). This verse is the source of the law that Jewish mourning over the dead lasts for seven days (SHIV'AH) as well as various other laws of mourning (Mo'ed Katan 15b).
Vv 11-16 are a separate PARSHAH PETHUHAH prophesying the terrible spiritual famine that will strike. We see this in our days: even the spiritual seekers do not know where to find reliable Torah teaching, while the overwhelming majority of the population are not even aware of how starved they are for Torah. When the rabbis went into the orchard of Yavneh and said that the day would come when the Torah would be forgotten by Israel, they cited verse 11 in support - except that Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (author of the Zohar) said that the Torah would not be forgotten in his merit! (Shabbos 138b).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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