Haftaras Vayeishev

This week’s haftarah from the Book of Amos closes with the following passage (Amos 3:1-8):
Hear this word that Hashem has spoken regarding you, O Children of Yisrael – regarding the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying: “You alone have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will take account of you regarding all your iniquities. Do two people walk together, if they have not so planned? Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion give forth its voice from its den, if it has not made a catch? Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground if there is no snare? Does a trap lift off the ground without making a catch? Can a shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? Can evil befall a city if Hashem did not bring it about? For the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets. The lion has roared – who will not fear? The Lord God, has spoken – who will not convey the prophecy?”
The Maggid notes that the various rhetorical questions that this passage presents are puzzling, but Amos’s message can be explained well through the following Midrashic commentary on the passage (Yalkut Shimoni, Nach, 540):
“Can a shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?” We can explain this verse with a parable. A country was ridden with invading soldiers, and a certain elder there warned all its residents of the danger. All those who listened to him were saved, while all those who did not listen were killed by the invaders. Thus it is written (Yechezkel 3:17): “O son of man, I have set you as a sentinel for the House of Israel; You hear the word from My mouth and you warn them of Me.” And similarly here. Can a shofar be blown in a city – on Rosh Hashanah – and the people not tremble? If evil befalls a city, Hashem did not bring it about [homiletical rendering of the end of the verse]. Hashem does not desire the death of evildoers, as it is written (Yechezkel 18:32): “For I do not desire the death of the one who deserves to die.”
The key idea is reflected in Amos’s statement that “the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets.” When a mortal man plans to cause a person harm, he hides his plan so that the person will not guard himself against them. By contrast, when Hashem plans to inflict harm on people, He discloses His plan to the prophets, in order to stir the people to repent and thereby escape the harm. The above Midrash brings out this idea. If, far be it, Hashem wished for the wicked to die, He would pass sentence on them without notice. But instead He openly informs one and all of the day He sits in judgment. As it is written (Tehillim 81:4-5): “Blow the shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed for our festival day [Rosh Hashanah]. For it is a decree unto Yisrael, a judgment [day] for the God of Yaakov.” Announcing the day of judgment is an act of love on Hashem’s part, aimed at leading the wayward to return to Him. Hashem opens the way to repentance to all sinners who wish to forsake their evil ways. He gives us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the day of judgment and develop strategies for shielding ourselves against negative decrees. And so, Amos tells us, those who feel no fear when the shofar is blown and are not stirred to repent have only themselves to blame when misfortune befalls them. They have no cause to complain about how Hashem treated them, for Hashem mercifully gave fair warning.
With this background, the Maggid proceeds to explain Hashem’s declaration in the passage from the haftarah sentence by sentence. Hashem begins: “You alone have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will take account of you regarding all your iniquities.” Hashem is telling us that, out of His love for us, He takes account of us regarding our sins, and sends us warning of the punishment we face for them, so that we can take steps to avoid it. Hashem continues: “Do two people walk together, if they have not so planned?” If two people are on friendly terms, they will plan a joint journey and walk together. But if one person plans to destroy another person, he will hide from his intended victim to keep the victim from noticing his plan. Hashem then says: “Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion give forth its voice from its den, if it has not made a catch?” These rhetorical questions bring out the same idea: Before the lion catches his prey, it refrains from roaring, so that the prey it is stalking will not flee.
This initial series of rhetorical questions relates to how a mortal man acts when he plans to bring a person harm. Hashem, on the other hand, before He brings a person misfortune, calls out in full voice so that the person can save himself. The next series of rhetorical questions develops this idea. Hashem says: “Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground if there is no snare?” He is saying that misfortune will not hover over a person to entrap him unless the person harbors within his soul a snare – that is, a sin. As the Gemara says (Shabbos 55a): “No affliction comes upon a person unless he is guilty of some sin.” Hashem continues: “Does a trap lift off the ground without making a catch?” This rhetorical question reflects the other side of the coin – that, without repentance, no sin is passed over without some punishment. If the trap of sin is set off, it surely will catch the evildoer. We therefore have no reason to regard prophecies of retribution with askance, for we could have figured out on our own that our sins will lead to our being punished, for Hashem is a God of absolute justice. It is out of His great compassion that He sends us such prophecies to warn us in advance, so that we may repent and save ourselves. Hashem then continues further: “Can a shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? If evil befalls a city, Hashem did not bring it about.” If we disregard the shofar blast that Hashem sends as a warning, and we fail to repent, the misfortune we ultimately suffer is not Hashem’s doing, but our own. Hashem then says: “For the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets.” Hashem announces the impending punishment to give us a chance to repent, and if misfortune strikes, we ourselves are at fault. It is just as in the Midrash’s parable about the people in the invader-ridden country who were warned by one of the elders. If we disregard Hashem’s danger warning, we will be smitten. But if we heed the warning, we will be safe.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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