The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Parashat Acharei / Kedoshim - the Haftara

Acharei Mot / Kedoshim - the Haftara
Amos 9:7-15
Reading date: 2nd May 2009 – 8th Iyyar 5769

Our Highlighted Haftara text
"The time is coming, says YHVH....when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall overflow. I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel: They shall rebuild the desolate cities, and dwell in them; they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine; make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their soil, never again to be uprooted from the soil that I have given them, says YHVH, your God." Amos 9:13-15

Planting is connecting something at its root.

Again this week we have a double portion, combining the parashiyot of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. (When the portions are read separately, there are different traditions for which haftara is read. Some communities recite this week's haftara from Amos, others read portions from Ezekiel 22, and Ezekiel 20).

Amos' pronouncement provides an interesting counterpoint to the Torah portion. Kedoshim concludes with how Israel has been set apart from all the nations (Lev. 20:26) yet the haftara begins with Amos reminding Israel that YHVH is God of all humanity, and YHVH cares equally about the Ethiopians. YHVH also redeemed other nations. At the same time, Amos reinforces the message of Kedoshim "You shall faithfully observe all My laws...lest the land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out" (Lev. 20:22) that YHVH will judge all people. Right living seems to be a condition for dwelling in YHVH's Promised Land. The haftara concludes on a positive note with a vision of a brighter future.

Amos is the first of the 'literary' prophets. He lived and prophesied around 784-748 B.C.E. during the reign of King Jeroboam. Like Moses, Amos was a 'reluctant' prophet. That is, he described himself as a sheep breeder and tended sycamore figs and was called by YHVH to proclaim a message warning of Israel's destruction. He prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel against the immoral practices that he saw. His message was the classic prophetic message: that rituals and religious piety do not have YHVH's approval when there is inequity between people and social injustice.

Both the Torah and haftara portions include the motif of planting. Our combined Torah portion includes many famous verses, including "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18) and my favorite, "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind" (Lev. 19:14). But among the miscellaneous collection of laws (everything from sexual morality to sacrifices) is a verse that describes the Israelites' connection to the land: When you come into the land and you plant every food-bearing tree... (Lev. 19:23). This imagery connects to the haftara's description of our return to Israel, planting vineyards and gardens.

Planting is connecting something at its root. Herzl understood that the precarious condition of Jews throughout history was because the Jewish people had been uprooted from their land. Many early Zionists believed that the health of the Jewish people depended on its reconnection with nature. The early Zionist thinker and writer, A.D. Gordon wrote: “We come to our Homeland in order to be planted in our natural soil from which we have been uprooted, to strike our roots deep into its life-giving substances, and to stretch out our branches in the sustaining and creating air and sunlight of the Homeland. Other peoples can manage to live in any fashion, in the homelands from which they have never been uprooted, but we must first learn to know the soil and ready it for our transplantation. We must study the climate in which we are to grow and produce. We, who have been torn away from nature, who have lost the savor of natural living - if we desire life, we must establish a new relationship with nature; we must open a new account with it.”

The early Zionists took A.D. Gordon's words to heart. Their slogan was: to build and be built. By literally building and planting, these chalutzim (pioneers) were involved in re-building the Jewish nation and Jewish life. Many of them were disconnected from traditional Jewish practice, and many were even secular and hostile to religion, yet many of them sensed a quasi-religious quality to their efforts. They were helping a new Jewish people to take root; transplanting an alienated folk in the soil of their own national life. Certainly the early religious Zionists believed that there was a mystical connection between the land and the people of Israel. This is why HaRav Kook, Israel's first Chief Rabbi, considered even the secular Zionists as partners in helping to bring the geula (redemption).

Since these days do not yet have a fixed liturgy or traditional ritual for planting, it is especially fitting to hear this week's haftara from Amos. The early Zionists were initially opposed by some religious groups who believed that we should wait for YHVH to restore the Jews to their land (and a small minority of extremists still holds this position). But Amos tells us that we must [first] rebuild the cities and the gardens of Israel, and then YHVH will 'plant Israel upon their soil. We plant our 'roots' in Israel, and we hope for the day when Amos' vision will come true, when Israel will "never again to be uprooted from the soil that I have given them."

Shabbat Shalom

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