Avraham ben Yaakov


Some identify the prophet Joel -- Yo'el son of Pethu-el - as the firstborn son of Samuel the Prophet (cf. I Samuel 8:2), who did not initially go in his father's ways but was said to have repented later and "persuaded God" (PETHU-EL) with his prayers (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5, Rashi on Joel 1:1). According to another opinion, Joel prophesied in the time of Yehoram son of Ahab, during whose reign there were seven years of famine (II Kings 8:1) - four of them said to have been caused by the four species of locusts enumerated in Joel 1:4, while the last three were marked by drought (Rashi ad loc. RaDaK). A third opinion is that of Midrash Seder Olam ch 20, which states that Joel prophesied together with Nahum, and Habakkuk towards the end of the First Temple period in the reign of the wicked king Menasheh son of Hezekiah (Rashi, RaDaK).

Whenever he lived, Joel was granted eternal prophecy teaching lessons for all time. His prophecy divides into two main parts: (1) Chapters 1-2: Warnings about a coming terrible plague of locusts and calls for the people to repent. (2) Chapters 3-4: Prophecies about the end of days, the ingathering of the exiles to Israel, the attack of the nations of the world against Israel and their defeat in Emek Yehoshaphat, the restoration of Zion and the time of Mashiah.

Vv 1-6: Prophecy of the coming terrible plague of locusts.

A particularly noteworthy aspect of Joel's prophecy is that it brings out the ECOLOGICAL effects of sin and how these may be averted through REPENTANCE.

The coming plague of locusts prophesied by Joel in this and the following chapter is described as one "the like of which has never ever been" (Joel 2:2) whereas in the case of the plague of locusts brought by Moses against the Egyptians, the Torah states that "before it there was no similar case of locusts like it and after it there will be nothing like it" (Exodus 10:14). Rashi on the verse in Exodus states that the plague in the days of Joel was even more serious than that of Moses, because there were four species of locusts, while that of Moses was unique precisely because it consisted of only one species.

A literal plague of locusts is a very terrible thing. One can also take Joel's prophecies about the coming plague of locusts as a graphic metaphor for the destructive effects of men's evil deeds upon the entire global environment - as if vast armies of natural destroyers are invading and consuming the very food we depend upon. In the light of repeated scientific warnings about the dangers of global warming, the latest reports about a serious epidemic of Asian bird flu now ravaging poultry in sophisticated Britain, etc. it is fitting to take Joel's prophecy as yet another wake-up call to repentance in order to save the world we live in.

Vv 2-3: Joel's call is to the elders and all the inhabitants of the earth. HA-ARETZ in this verse particularly refers to Eretz Israel , but it can also apply to the whole earth. The call is one that must be told to all the future generations.

V 4: This verse enumerates the four species of locusts that would come one after the other to devastate the land.

Vv 5ff: The people are in a drunken stupor - the only way to shock them is to illustrate to them how they themselves will feel the plague - by seeing the vines that provide them with their wine destroyed by the locusts.

V 9: "The meal offering and the drink offering is cut off from the House of God": from here we see that Joel was addressing a nation with a functioning Sanctuary or Temple . They had to understand that even if they were outwardly practicing the Temple rituals, this was not enough. Without their inner repentance, they would see the destruction of the entire ecology.

V 10: This is the opposite of the blessing in the second paragraph of Shema, "and you shall gather in your grain, your wine and your oil" (Deut. 11:14).

Vv. 10-12: Including the reference to olive oil in verse 10, these verses enumerate all the seven species of produce for which the Land of Israel is praised: Wheat, Barley, the Vine, Fig and Pomegranate, Olive and Date (Deut. 8:8).

Vv 13ff are a call to the priests to lead the people in mourning and repentance over the destructive plague through fasting and self-examination. "For near is the day of HaShem, and as a destruction from the Almighty (SHOD MI-SHADAI) will it come" (v 15). Whereas the divine attribute of YESOD (=SHADAI) is the source of blessing, when the Yud departs because of sin, all that is left is SHOD, destruction.

Vv 16ff. The prophet calls to the people to open their eyes to the environmental destruction and waste around them.

V 18: The very animals are sighing and perplexed at man's destruction of nature through his evil deeds.

V 19: This is truly a cry of prayer to God over the destruction of the environment.

V 20: The very animals are panting to God over the destruction of water resources and the fire that is ravaging the world.


V 1: The blast of the Shofar is emblematic of the call of the prophet to the people to repent before the evil comes.

Vv 2-9 are a horrifically graphic description of the coming plague of locusts, which descend upon a land green like the Garden of Eden and leave it like a desolate desert. They are like armies of horses and their riders, sounding like chariots as they dance over the tops of the mountains like an entire nation of warriors ready for war, bringing terror to all faces. Locusts are noted for their extraordinary discipline and methodical destruction (v 8). They will climb into all the houses through the windows like a thief (v 9).

Vv 10: These swarms of relentless warriors of God blot out the very light of the sun and the moon and the stars. Ecological destruction affects the entire universe.

V 11: The people must understand that the plague is being sent only through the word of God. "And HaShem utters His voice before His army, for His camp is very great, for He Who executes His word is strong, for the day of HaShem is great and very terrible, and who can abide it?" This verse introduces one of the most sublime prophetic calls to repentance (Joel 2:11-27). It is read together with selections from Hosea (14:2-10) and Michah (7:18-20) as the Haftara of Shabbos Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (September/early October).

V 12: Since the plague is sent from God, it follows that in order to avert the coming evil, the people must repent. "EVEN NOW, says HaShem, return to Me with all your hearts." (v 12).

V 13: "Tear your hearts and not your garments." We are asked not merely to make outward shows of mourning but to tear down our inner insensitivity and break through the apathy in our hearts.

V 14: Repentance can cause God to turn around the harsh decree and convert it into a blessing.

Vv 15ff. The whole people must be mobilized for a national campaign of repentance that will bring in people of all ages, elders, children and even suckling babes, brides and their grooms.

V 17: The words of the prayer of the Cohen-priests and Levites in this verse, "Spare Your people, HaShem." are incorporated into the additional Tahanun supplications recited in the synagogue on Mondays and Thursdays.

Vv 18-27 are a prophecy of the comfort and great goodness that will come if the people will repent. As soon as they do so, God will immediately show His zealousness for the Land and have mercy on His people.

V 19: "And I will remove far off from you the northern one (HA-TZAPHONI)." - this is the evil inclination, which is hidden (TZAPHOON) in the heart (Rashi, Succah 52a).

V 23: "Be glad, you children of Zion , and rejoice in HaShem your God, for He has given you the former rain in due measure, and He has brought down for you the rain in the first month, the former rain and the latter rain." The Talmud relates that after the plague of locusts in the time of Joel, the entire period of the rainy season passed in Israel with no rainfall whatever by the end of Adar. On the first of Nissan (normally the time of the last rains of the year) came the very first rainfall. Joel told the people to go out and sow their fields, but they said it would be better to eat their last remaining measure of wheat and barley and live rather than sow it and die. Joel told them nonetheless to sow, and they miraculously discovered remaining seeds in the walls and ant holes, and went out and sowed on the second, third and fourth of the month. The second rains fell on 5 Nissan and by 16 Nissan the crops ripened sufficiently to make it possible to bring the Omer offering in the Temple (Taanis 5a).

Vv 24-27 are a beautiful prophecy of how in time to come God will make up for all that the predators have taken from us. "And you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied" (v 26): in the future, man will no longer feel the gnawing urge to OVERCONSUME, because he will be truly satisfied.

* * * Joel 2:11-27 is included in the readings in the Haftara of Shabbos Shuvah prior to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement * * *



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved