Vayeshev - 5761
that is read on Shabbat
Parshat Vayeshev is taken, according to both the Ashkenazic
Communities, from the Book of Amos,
"Perek"/Chapter 2, "Passuk"/Verse 6 through "Perek"
3, "Passuk" 8. The
Book of Amos is included in the Collection of Books of Prophecy known as the
A Note on the "Trei Asar"
Asar" were a group of twelve prophets ("Trei Asar" means
twelve in Aramaic, which was the spoken language of the Jewish People in
Talmudic times). It refers to a
group of prophets whose works were collected and bundled together as if one
"Book" by the "Anshei
K'nesset HaGedolah," the Men of the Great Assembly, a group of
great Torah scholars
who functioned at the beginning of the Second Temple era.
One of their accomplishments was the definition of the contents of
the Hebrew Bible.
for their bundling was that, although they were of Divine origin, and had
profound meaning for all subsequent generations, there was fear that because
of their relatively small size (they varied from one to fourteen chapters),
they would be lost.
Who was the Prophet Amos?
Amos was a
wealthy man, a cattle merchant and a sycamore inspector. He lived in Tekoa, in the part of "Eretz Yisrael"
allocated to the Tribe of Asher. His
period of prophecy was during the reign of King Uzziah in the Kingdom of
Yehudah, beginning two years prior to the earthquake, that was caused by
Uzziah's entering the Holy of Holies to offer incense, although he was not a
Priest. The King at that time
of the Kingdom of Israel was Yeravam ben Yoash.
prophetic mission was mainly to warn the King and the People of the Kingdom
of Israel of the approach of great danger due to their sins and moral
affronts to G-d and His Torah. He
also reproved the Kingdom of Yehudah, but to a lesser extent, because he was
from the Kingdom of Israel, and because the danger was looming there
considerably before it threatened the Kingdom of Yehudah.
Setting of the Haftarah
or context of the Haftarah is that it is the climax of a group of prophecies
beginning, "For three sins of a
nation I would forgive
them, but that is the limit of My patience with them, and if they sin a
fourth time, I cannot forgive them anymore.
The Prophet began with Damesek (Amos 1:3), proceded to Azah
(Amos1:6), then Tzor (Amos 1:9), then Edom (Amos 1:11), then Amon (Amos
1:13), then Moav (Amos2:1), then, crossing the "Continental
Divide" between the non-Jewish and the Jewish nations, but in this
context there was no divide, Yehudah (Amos 2:4), and finally, in our
Haftarah, culminating with Israel (Amos 2:6).
because they sell the righteous for
the discussion of this sin by noting that it refers to the judges, who would accept bribes, and pervert justice by declaring
the righteous person guilty, and the guilty litigant, who had provided the
on this explanation by noting that in the context of the verse, "For
three I would forgive, etc.," the meaning here is though the People
of Israel violated the three
cardinal sins: sexual immorality, idol worship, and the shedding of blood,
HaShem says that He would have forgiven them those sins.
But when they did "chamas,"
violence in a social context, taking violent advantage of the poor
and perverting justice, that
was too much, even as it was at the time of the Generation of the Flood,
where the text reads (Bereshit 6:11), "And the earth was corrupt
before G-d and the earth was filled with violence."
and the needy for a pair of shoes."
explains the meaning as being related to the idea of locking a door,
or imposing a separation. Thus,
the rich judge would force the poor property owner who had a field that
was between the fields of the judge, thus blocking the formation of a
large "estate," to sell that property to the judge at a
low price so that the judge could control a larger and larger tract of
that the moral level of the society was so low that judges would accept
bribes even as small as a pair of shoes, and for that they were willing to
"Who desire that the dust of the earth should
be on the head of the poor
this to mean that all the while that the judges would walk "on the
earth," they would think of how they could extract additional money
from the poor.
interprets the expression to mean that the so-called judges were ready to
use force to impose their
unjust verdicts; if the poor were unwilling to pay, "police
officers" would attack them and throw them to the ground, covering
them with the dust of the earth, until they would accept the unjust
decisions of the "judges."
and a man and his father would go unto the
same engaged young woman in order to profane My Name."
says that the moral standards of the society of Israel had fallen so low,
that modesty had completely disappeared, allowing the abomination
described in the verse to occur.
that HaShem had commanded the Jewish People to "Be holy for I your
G-d am holy." If you act in the obscene manner described in the verse you
will be profaning yourselves and thereby also profaning the Name of G-d.
"And they lay themselves down beside every
altar upon clothes taken in pledge
cites the Targum Yonatan who
explains the verse as meaning that the "judge" would settle the
case as a loan upon the poor, take their garments as pledges, make them
into couches, and recline on them at the time of their meals.
Eliezer of Beaugency
explains that they would recline in beds made from the garments of the
poor even beside the altars of "bamot,"
altars made on a high place, for
the service of HaShem (the construction of "bamot" was a
practice in wide use in Biblical times.
They were used both for Divine Service and for the service of
There was a time of "heter habamot," a time when it was permitted to worship HaShem using "bamot," but after a certain period, after the "Mishkan," the Tabernacle, the temporary transportable Temple, moved to Shiloh, and certainly once the Temple stood in Yerushalayim, there began the period of "Issur HaBamot,' in which "bamot" were prohibited even for the Service of HaShem.
were so ingrained into the ritual life of the Jewish People that it was
almost impossible to
eradicate their use, and the Bible would often comment about one of the
Kings who had been relatively good in terms of observance of the
Torah, "but he could not eliminate the 'bamot.' "
and they would drink the wine of those who
RASHI, RADAK and Metzudat David explain that they would exact money wrongfully
from the poor and use it to purchase wine.
in the house of their god."
explains that they consecrated the garments they took as pledges to their
gods, used them to sit on as they ate the sacrificial meat from the altars
in the temples of their gods. And
they would drink from the libations of wine that they had purchased from
the money gained wrongfully from the oppressed litigants.
according to the Malbim, we see
the mingling of the sin of idolatry with the sin of oppression of the
poor, a poisonous mix.
"But I destroyed the Emorite
explains that HaShem says that He destroyed the Emorites because of their
depraved and inhuman practices; yet you chose to adopt those practices,
despite the fact that you had been warned to steer clear of them. And Amos mentioned only the Emorite because they were the
strongest of the nations that HaShem removed from the path of the
Israelites, as Amos says, "whose height was as the height of cedars
and he was strong as the oaks."
Ibn Ezra adds
that the Emorites were the most closely identified with the Land of
Israel, as we see from the fact that HaShem had said to Avraham, in the
"Brit bein HaBetarim," that He could not
deliver the Land to Avraham at that point "because the sin
of the Emorite was not yet complete" (Bereshit 15:16).
his fruit from above and his roots from
that HaShem accomplished this by use of the "Tzirah," the
wasp-like insect that pursued the Canaanites.
Its venom could apparently make one blind ("destroying their
fruit from above") and also sterilize the men ("and its roots
And I led you through the desert for forty
RASHI and RADAK
explain that the purpose of the forty year sojourn in the desert was for
HaShem to teach the Jewish People the ways of the Torah, so that they
would appreciate its infinite
worth and superiority over the ways of the Emorite and other nations they
would encounter in Canaan.
"And I raised some of your children as
prophets and some of your sons as Nazirites
that HaShem is saying to the Jewish People that He did two other great
favors to them that He did not do to any other nation.
The first was that He allowed His Divine Presence to rest upon
their nation in such a manner that inspired some of their children to
envelop themselves in the spirit of prophecy, allowing themselves to
receive direct communication, as it were, from G-d.
And others to seek the spiritual heights of "nezirut,"
abstinence from wine and meat and other pleasures of the flesh (that is only
holy in isolated cases).
"And you gave the Nazirites to drink wine, and
you commanded the prophets not to prophecy."
that HaShem is criticizing the Jewish People that not only did they not
pay attention in their own lives to the commands of G-d, but they also
negated the holiness of those among them who had assumed a higher level of
holiness. Thus, they
convinced the Nazirites that there was no point in accepting upon
themselves the restrictions that they had assumed and, worse, they had
prevented their children from imbibing from the Holy Spirit by
telling them forcefully not to prophecy, that they weren't interested in
their warnings, nor in what G-d had to say to them."
In the interest of conserving space, we skip from
Amos 2:13 through Amos 2:16. In
Chapter 3, Amos takes up essentially where he left off in 2:12, and
continues to castigate the people of Israel for their rejection of
Prophecy, their only direct link to HaShem.
"Only you did I love above all the families of
the earth; therefore I will visit upon you your iniquities."
RADAK explains that HaShem says here to the People of Israel that it was only they whom He chose, and who witnessed all His miracles, as opposed to the other nations of the world. Therefore, it is appropriate that HaShem punish Israel for its sins, just as a king of flesh and blood would tend to be angry and punish the servants who are always before him, as opposed to the villagers whom he hardly ever sees.
Will two walk together unless that had
relates this to prophecy, "Will a prophet speak out unless he was
commanded to do so?"
Will a lion roar in the forest if it has no
that when a lion lays hold of prey, it usually roars, and it usually does
not roar, if it has not found prey. This
is obviously a metaphor. The
reality it models is the mode of operation of the Prophet, who speaks no
prophecy unless G-d has spoken to him, and if G-d has spoken to him, he almost has no choice but to speak out.
Will a bird fall from the sky unless it is
caught by a trap? And if it
is in the trap, is it not caught?"
continues the idea of the previous verse, relating the trap and the bird
to the prophet and his message.
"Will a shophar be sounded in the city and the
people not quake?
How could it
be that an alarm (for example, a fire alarm or an incoming missile alarm)
would be sounded in the city, and the residents of the city would not
respond to it with great fear?
How then can
the words of the Prophets, that are meant to be alarms
for the people, not inspire fear?
"If a lion roars, who will not be afraid? If
the L-rd G-d speaks a message, who
could not prophesy?"
the roar of the lion to the call of G-d to the prophet to prophesy.
Just as it is impossible not to be afraid of the roar of the lion,
so is it impossible for the prophet not to prophesy after being commanded
to do so by Almighty G-d!
connection between the Parshah and the Haftarah is the selling of Yoseph:
the major connection between the Parshah and the Haftarah, the unjust
selling of Yoseph by his brothers, the consequences and implications of this
terrible "aveirah," or sin, has pursued the Jewish People
down the ages. In the penitential prayers of Yom
Kippur and the Kinot of Tishah
B'Av, we read the story of the "Asarah Harugei Malchut," the
"Ten Martyrs," in which the account is given, poetically uniting
the historically separated martyrdoms, of a judgment by the Roman governor
against the greatest of the
Sages of the Talmud.
He said to
them, "If one sold his fellow Jew into slavery, what is the law of the
Torah?" They answered that
he must be put to death. He
then said, "The brothers of Joseph were never brought to trial for
their sin of selling their brother into slavery.
So I will carry out their punishment upon you, for you represent the
account of the destruction of the Second Temple, the Gemara in Masechet
Gittin tells a story of "Kamtza
and Bar Kamtza," one a friend, the other an enemy, of a certain
individual who made a party. The
servant of the Jew who made the party invited the wrong man with the similar
name, but no matter what that poor individual offered the host, the latter
insisted upon his forcible ejection from the party.
Since the great Rabbis of Israel were present, the victim had to
assume that they acquiesced in his embarrassment.
And he turned around and informed falsely against the Jewish People
to the Roman government and contributed to the destruction.
The sin of "sinat chinam," causeless hatred, or even "hatred for a cause" as was the hatred of the brothers for Yoseph, and the hatred of the humiliated partygoer who had been invited, and then thrown out in the presence of the religious authorities of the Torah, is also a sin. "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (Vayikra 19:17) makes no distinction between "causeless" and "for a cause."
it is destructive for us to adopt a strategy of anger and hatred for our
misguided brothers in Eretz Yisrael,
who deny the bases of our religion, our right to the Land of Israel, that
there ever was a Temple, the
occurrence of the Holocaust, and other monstrous absurdities, that they
utter. We rather have to go to
the root of their ignorance and teach them otherwise.
When their "chet," their sin of being wide of the mark of
truth, is uprooted, in accordance with the conception of Beruriah, the great
wife of Rabbi Meir, with regard to
the misguided individual who was harassing her husband, then we will stand
together as an "am echad ba'aretz," one nation in the Land, and
earn the support and protection of the One G-d of the Universe.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU