Background

This week, two portions of the Torah are read together: Parshat Acharei Mot and Parshat Kedoshim. Normally, when two Parshas are read together, we read the Haftorah of the second Parsha. However, the Rema, in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 428:25, says that the one exception to this rule is that of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, when we instead read the Haftorah of the first Parsha (i.e. Acharei Mot). Thus, the Haftorah this week is from the Book of Amos, Chapter 9, verses 7 to 15.



The prophet Amos was from the town of Tekoa, which is located southeast of Jerusalem in Judea, in the territory of the tribe of Asher. According to the Talmud in Tractate Nedarim 38a, Amos was a wealthy man who owned cattle and sycamore trees. He prophesied at the same time as three other prophets: Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, as the Talmud states in Tractate Pesachim 87a. The Radak, in his commentary on Amos 1:1, cites the Midrash, which says: ?Rabbi Pinchas said: Why was he called Amos? Because he was burdened [?Amos? in Hebrew means ?burdened?] by his tongue [i.e. Amos had a speech impediment].? The Midrash also states that the people ridiculed him because of this. The Talmud in Tractate Makkot 24a says that while 613 precepts were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, Amos came and stressed one: ?Seek me and live.? (Amos 5:4) Amos lived a long life and was buried in Tekoa. His tomb is mentioned by pilgrims to the Holy Land as early as the 4th century, as well as by Jewish travelers of the Middle Ages.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins with G-d reminding Israel that they are His servants, for He took them out of the land of Egypt, the place of their exile. By contrast, other nations, such as the Philistines of Kaftor and the Arameans of Kir, were also exiled from their lands, yet G-d did not deliver them from their dispersion. Hence, the Jewish people have no right to rebel against G-d, for He brought them out of their exile. Yet, since the monarchy of Israel ? referring to the ten northern tribes of Israel ? was sinful, G-d declares that he will destroy it, but vows not to completely destroy the house of Jacob, who will be dispersed among the nations. At the end of days, when the time of redemption has arrived, G-d will restore the monarchy to the house of King David, which will rule over the united people of Israel. The Land of Israel will enjoy great abundance and prosperity. The Jewish people will return to their homeland, where they will rebuild its ruins, plant vineyards and reap the fruits of their labor. The Haftorah closes with G-d promising that He will plant the Jews on their Land, the Land of Israel, from which they shall never again be uprooted.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv, in his book Bein Haftorah LeParsha, suggests a beautiful connection between the two. He notes that in the Parsha of Acharei Mot, the Torah warns the Jewish people for the first time of the possibility of being exiled from the Land of Israel should they sin. The Torah states: ?You shall therefore keep My statutes and my ordinances and shall not commit any of these abominations? that the Land shall not vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.? (Leviticus 18:26, 28) Thus, says Rabbi Shaviv, to balance out this difficult warning, we read the prophet Amos? comforting words to the Jewish people, according to which G-d will not exile them forever, but will in fact redeem them and return them, ?and they shall not be uprooted again from their Land.? (Amos 9:15)



The Lies They Tell



At the beginning of the Haftorah, G-d contrasts the Jewish people with other nations, saying to them: ??Are you not as the Children of the Cushites to me, O Children of Israel?? says the L-rd?? (Amos 9:7)



The Question:

What is the meaning of the comparison between Israel and the Cushites?



The Answer:

The Talmud in Tractate Moed Katan 16b explains the verse as follows: ?just as the Cushite is distinguishable by his skin, so are Israel distinguished by their ways from the nations.? Similarly, the Malbim says the comparison is intended as a compliment to Israel, indicating that Israel will always be distinct from among the other nations, for they are G-d?s people. Thus, it is Israel?s elevated actions and noble behavior which set them apart.



The Lesson:

For much of the past week, the international media has been filled with gruesome and harrowing accounts of the battle for Jenin between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists. Basing themselves on spurious Palestinian accounts, many journalists spread the bald-faced lie that Israel had committed a ?massacre.? The UK Independent newspaper (April 16) wrote of Israeli ?war crimes,? while the Times of London (April 16) described Jenin as ?the camp of the dead.? Needless to say, however, once reporters gained access to Jenin after the battle had been concluded, they discovered the extent to which they had been hoodwinked. Thus far, the total number of Palestinian dead found in Jenin is 40 ? hardly the 500 casualties claimed by Palestinian spokesmen ? and nearly all of them were male combatants with ammunition belts or other signs of having engaged in combat with Israeli forces. Indeed, Israel restrained itself by refusing to use airpower for fear of civilian casualties, instead sending its troops to conduct dangerous house-to-house searches, which led to the deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers in one day in Jenin. Nevertheless, despite these precautions, the media chose to play up the false Palestinian claims, damaging Israel?s image abroad and causing much of the world to look aghast at the Jewish state. Yet, however difficult our PR problems may appear to be ? and they are quite serious ? we must never for a moment fall prey to believing the vicious lies and slander that the media attempts to spread about us.



As we saw above, the prophet Amos assures us that Israel is unique in G-d?s eyes, for we are His people and we are distinguished by a higher standard of behavior. Other nations in similar circumstances would have flattened Jenin without mercy, hardly giving a care for the Palestinian civilian population there. Israel has conducted itself with utmost care and concern for avoiding needless injury to innocent Palestinians, and the IDF remains one of the most moral armed forces in the world. Let the Times of London and the Independent say what the wish ? Israel has no reason to be ashamed. We need not apologize for defending ourselves, nor must we show contrition for waging war on terrorists bent on our destruction. For, as the Talmud stated above, ?Israel is distinguished by their ways from the nations.?



I?ve Fallen ? And I Will Get Up



After foretelling that the Jewish people would go into exile, the prophet Amos assures them the day will come when G-d will redeem them. G-d says to the Jewish people, ?On that day, I will raise up the Tabernacle of David which has fallen and I will close up their breaches and I will raise up its ruins, and build it up as in the days of yore.? (Amos 9:11)



The Question:

Since the prophecy refers to the future ? ?On that day, I will raise up? - why does G-d describe the Tabernacle of David ?which is falling? in the present tense?



The Answer:

Rabbi Mendel Hirsch (son of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch), in his book Seder HaHaftarot, says that the phrase ?which is falling? is used to indicate that the Final Redemption will come at a time when all appears lost and ?the Tabernacle of David is about to collapse underneath.? He cites the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 96b, where our verse above from the Book of Amos is explained as referring to the coming of the Messiah and the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy over Israel. The Talmud there refers to the Messiah as Bar Nafli ? or, ?son of the fallen one.? This, says Rabbi Hirsch, means that the Messiah will appear ?at a time when all seems ready to collapse without hope.? Just then, when all appears lost, G-d will redeem His people and deliver them. Of course, if the Jewish people were to repent and return to G-d, it would hasten the arrival of the redemption and the Messiah could appear at any time. Failing that, says Rabbi Hirsch, the Messiah will come at the appointed hour.



The Lesson:

Though it may appear difficult to believe, the situation in Israel seems only to worsen by the day. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has come and gone, and a cease-fire remains as elusive as ever. The European Union is threatening economic sanctions, the United Nations is berating Israel and the world media for several days spread false Palestinian rumors about an IDF ?massacre? in Jenin, blackening Israel?s image abroad and sparking fury and hate throughout much of the world. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in places such as France, Germany and Belgium, and Jews are once again speaking openly of their fears for the future. Yet, as hopeless as the situation may appear to be, we can take solace in what Rabbi Hirsch said above. For, as bad as things might get, when everything around us appears to fit the prophet Amos? description ? we can rest assured that it is just at such a perilous moment that redemption can and will sprout forth. Though everything may seem to be on the verge of collapse, G-d will not allow His people to falter. He will step in and catch us, halting our descent and lifting us up for eternity, for ?On that day, I will raise up the Tabernacle of David which is falling.? May it happen speedily in our time.

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.