Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
Here is this week’s haftarah commentary:
Parshat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim
April 29, 2023 | 8 Iyyar 5783
Torah: Leviticus 16:1-20:27 Triennial: Leviticu
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15
Not Holier than Thou
“You shall be holy!” Thus opens one of the densest law collections of the Torah, found in our parashah (Lev. 19). What this means has led to discussions from antiquity until modern times, but our haftarah might tell us what it does not mean.
Are you not like the children of Cush to Me, O children of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, The Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? (Amos 9:7)
Amos, the prophet from the middle of the 8th century BCE who prophesied in the kingdom of Israel, is speaking against the common belief of his day – and sometimes in our days as well – that the children of Israel are a chosen people meaning that they are entitled to a privileged treatment and immunity from prosecution by God. They believe that they can transgress (Amos speaks often about transgressions against fellow humans) with impunity. To bring home the message of accountability Amos explains to the people that they are not unique in the eyes of their God. God deals also with other nations around the world. We are no more special than the rest. This may appear almost insulting: Who if not our God should give us preferential treatment?
The nations mentioned are both far and near. Cush, identified with Ethiopia, is the end of the world for Amos’ audience. And our stunning achievement, the one that is mentioned time and again, the Exodus from Egypt, is merely one of several relocations of nations. The Philistines were brought from Caphtor (identified as Crete) and the Arameans from Kir (identified as Armenia) by the will of our God (never mind how or why they thought they landed up in the region.)
Now that Amos has explained that we are not privileged, we can begin to understand that our relationship with God is a demanding one. Our covenant may grant rights, but it mainly bestows responsibilities, causing us to live under constant observation: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom…” (v.8) That means being held accountable. The people of Israel shall pay for their behavior.
Let us return to the mitzvah of “you shall be holy”: It is not a privileged state of holiness, but rather a commandment to be so. Our holy status is not a given but rather as something that requires work. The prophets usually did not come to boost the national ego, but to warn against the complacency that such an unwarranted inflated ego can bring about.
This is no way to end a haftarah. Following dire warnings, the prophet turns to the day after we have suffered the consequences of our failure to live up to “you shall be holy.” Once those who need to be held accountable are punished, God will provide His people with lasting stability and prosperity on their land. When we try, we can make ourselves special after all.