Introduction to Amos
Amos, a shepherd according to the Radak, was a student of Hoshea and lived in the same generation as Michah, Yeshaya, and Hoshea. The Gemara (Pesachim 87a) tells us that Amos prophesied after Hoshea. Amos was a prophet during the times of Uziyah king of Yehuda, and Yeravam ben Yoash king of Yisrael (approximately 100 years before the exile of the ten tribes, and approximately 250 years before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash). During the times of Amos, Bnei Yisrael enjoyed wealth and tranquillity: the surrounding nations would even pay them taxes. However, this wealth was requisitioned by the ‘Jewish nobility’. The Seder Hadoros writes that Amos was killed by Uziyahu king of Yehuda.
Some of the prophecies of Amos are directed at the nations of the world, and others are directed at Bnei Yisrael, warning them about the transience of their current material success and tranquillity. The Radak explains that the structure of Sefer Amos is straightforward. First, Amos denounces the nations for their barbarism, and then he turns to Bnei Yisrael to reproach them for their failures. This perek follows a repeated pattern of denouncing the nations (Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon) for having committed the three major sins, followed by a fourth. Though these nations committed many sins, only the wrongs they committed to Klal Yisrael are listed, for these led to their downfall.
Perek 1: Amos received visions from Hashem during the reign of Uziyah and Yoash. Amos prophesied that Hashem will cause the choicest crops to dry up due to a shortfall of rain. Hashem would forgive Damesek for the three sins of murder, immorality, and idolatry (Abarbanel), but would punish them for the fourth sin of abusing the inhabitants of Gilaad with “rods of iron” (Rashi; recorded in Malachim Beis 10:32). He would also destroy Aram; their inhabitants, rulers and palaces. Hashem would punish the residents of Azzoh and Tzor for their “fourth sin” of assisting Edom when they destroyed the second Beis Hamikdash. Similarly, Hashem would reprimand Edom (descendants of Eisav) for loathing and murdering their ancestor’s “brother (Bnei Yisrael)”. Finally, Ammon would be targeted for their “fourth sin” of “splitting open pregnant women of Gilaad” to prevent youngsters rebelling against their dictatorship (Rashi), and Hashem would dispatch an army to annihilate Ammon and capture their king.
The Haftara for Vayeshev is from Amos 2:6-3:8
Amos predicted that Hashem would devastate Moav’s citizens, ruler, and officers for the “fourth sin” of murdering the king of Edom and using the ashes for painting walls (Rashi). After scrutinizing the sins of the surrounding nations, Amos changed his focus to Yehuda. Although they committed the three cardinal sins (Abarbanel), Bnei Yisrael will be punished for the “fourth sin” of judicial corruption and taking advantage of the poor, immorality without shame (Radak), seizing the pledge of the poor and using the proceeds to drink in the temples of foreign deities. Hashem annihilated the Emorite nation, brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, guided them through the desert for forty years, and gave them prophets and holy Nazirim to teach them. Yet, in return they “gave the Nazirim wine” and prevented the prophets from relating Hashem’s word, and therefore they would be completely destroyed.
Perek 3: Amos relayed that Hashem expects Bnei Yisrael to meet a higher moral standard than other nations, and therefore they would be punished (Abarbanel). Amos noted that it cannot merely be coincidence that Neviim predict future events accurately; Hashem would never inflict suffering unless Bnei Yisrael were warned by the Neviim, who cannot withhold the Divine word (Rashi). Yet, Bnei Yisrael ignore the Neviim and are not frightened (Rashi). Amos beckoned Egypt and Ashdod to witness the decimation of Bnei Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael are stuck in their wickedness and cannot behave in a righteous fashion, and must thus be surrounded by enemies to prevent any escape (Radak). The reference to ‘The edge of the bed’ is either an allegory to refer to the dwindling numbers due to impending destruction, or a hint to Achaziah’s sin in consulting with the Ba’al Zvuv (Rashi 3:12). Amos warned that when Hashem punishes Bnei Yisrael, He will target the idolatry and the extravagant luxuries of “Winter houses and summer houses and houses of ivory”.
Perek 4: Amos compared the overly-indulgent wives of the officers of Bnei Yisrael (who mistreat the poor) to the “cows of Bashan” which graze in the choicest fields (Radak). Amos cajoled the people to continue their idolatry instead of offering sacrifices to Hashem (Radak), so that they would reach a particular level of evil which would burn itself up (Rashi). Hashem withheld food and even allotted rain to only one city to prove He is all Powerful and encourage Bnei Yisrael to pray to Him, yet they continued to ignore Him. Moreover, troops which were sent to Egypt to import food provisions were killed by pestilence and the sword, leaving their carcasses to rot. Still, Bnei Yisrael did not repent. Hashem eradicated cities “like Sodom and Ammora”, yet Bnei Yisrael took no notice. Therefore, Hashem would bring the evils upon Bnei Yisrael as He outlined (Rashi). Amos emphasized that Hashem is all-powerful and can do whatever He desires, but He is still concerned with every individual and He communicates to us through His Neviim.
Perek 5: Amos lamented the fall of the “virgin” Bnei Yisrael that is a result of the Bnei Yisrael disobeying Hashem. Bnei Yisrael followed the golden calves in Beis El and the altar of Gilgal (Abarbanel). They distorted justice and subsequently, only ten percent of Jews would survive from each city. Hashem would bolster a weak nation and enable them to dominate over the strong Bnei Yisrael (Rashi). This punishment was because they refused to accept rebuke from the Neviim (Radak) and were morally decrepit, exploiting the poor and vulnerable. Amos reminded Bnei Yisrael that Hashem is aware of their misdeeds, and since individuals fear rebuke the public, they would be destroyed and there would be mourning in the streets (Radak). However, Hashem will still redeem them if they “pursue good, not evil”. Amos criticized those who do not believe they will be punished and cynically comment “let Him (bring the day of suffering) hurry” (Rashi), and maintained that Hashem will cause tragedy after tragedy (Radak). Hashem despised Yehuda’s festivals, offerings, and music, but longs for justice to ensue; Hashem did not require sacrifices for forty years in the desert for this is not his primary demand. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael would be exiled to distant lands “further than Damasek”.
Perek 6: Amos mourned the annihilation of the wealthy of Yehuda and Yisrael who were unaffected by the suffering of some of Bnei Yisrael (Radak). Hashem inquired whether the cities of Kalneih, Chammas, and Gas are larger than Bnei Yisrael’s, that Bnei Yisrael feel they have been treated harshly. Bnei Yisrael believe that their punishment will not occur imminently (Rashi), and therefore, they promote a lawless and morally decrepit society (Radak) where people aim to solely satisfy their needs. They maintain that they are “like David regarding musical instruments”, but this is patently false, as they use music just for entertainment with wine and oils, while ignoring their brethren’s anguish. In contrast, David used his music to connect to Hashem (Metzudas David). Amos questioned how Bnei Yisrael can recognize that “Horses cannot run on rocky terrain” as it contravenes nature; but at the same time, they fail to comprehend that they distort the nature of justice and righteousness.
Perek 7: Amos witnessed a vision of Hashem gathering locusts (Radak) and these locusts consuming the crops. Amos beseeched Hashem and argued that Bnei Yisrael’s population was too miniscule to endure this (Radak) and Hashem relented. Amos saw a second vision of a raging fire targeting Bnei Yisrael, but primarily targeting the king who was responsible for the nation’s spiritual freefall. Once again, Amos prayed and Hashem retracted His plan. Amos saw Hashem holding a type of measuring rod; this demonstrated that He would inflict precise justice against Bnei Yisrael. Hashem could no longer bear the weight of Bnei Yisrael’s sins and would decimate their idolatry and palaces. Amatzyah, an idolatrous priest, informed King Yeravam (Yisrael) that Amos prophesied he would die and Bnei Yisrael would be massacred. Amatzyah told Amos to prophesy in Yehuda, but depart from Yisrael. Amos retorted that he merely herded cattle, but Hashem appeared to Amos and instructed him to relate that Amatzyah’s land would be seized, his children murdered, he would die outside Eretz Yisrael, and his wife would commit adultery.
Perek 8: Amos received a vision showing a “basket of summer fruits”. This depicted that Hashem was now prepared to destroy Bnei Yisrael as they had finished growing and were ready to be consumed (Radak). Bnei Yisrael would be laden with corpses as Hashem “will never forget their actions” of exploiting the poor and vulnerable in society, and their lack of financial ethics. Just as the flood in the days of Noach and Sodom and Ammorah destroyed mankind due to thievery, Bnei Yisrael deserve to receive the same treatment (Radak). Hashem will bring down the sun at midday (passuk 9) – referring to disaster during times of wealth (Rashi): He would remove the light of the Shechinah from this world throughout exile (Malbim). Hashem will transform Yom Tov into mourning. Nevertheless, Hashem will ensure that Bnei Yisrael long for Hashem’s word and travel across Eretz Yisrael to seek it. Yet, they will not find it during Galus (Radak) and idolaters, even if they pursue Hashem, will not receive the Divine word and will be eliminated.
The Haftara of Achrei Mos is from Amos 9:7-15
Amos witnessed Hashem upon the altar in the Beis Hamikdash and was commanded to kill King Yoshiyah of Yehuda and destroy the Beis Hamikdash with its vessels (Metzudas David). Furthermore, Hashem highlighted the nobles’ inability to put forward an effective successor (Metzudas David). Hashem will ensure that no-one will survive. This should not be viewed as Hashem abandoning Bnei Yisrael to ‘nature’, rather as the all-powerful Hashem actively repaying them for their misdeeds (Malbim). Hashem argued that Bnei Yisrael; ‘His nation’ from Har Sinai (Radak), behave like the Kushites; any other nation (Rashi). Amos related that Bnei Yisrael would be destroyed as one united empire, but individuals would be scattered amongst the nations. Those who fail to recognize the consequences of their actions will be annihilated. Only then will Moshiach arrive and Bnei Yisrael will possess other lands, have abundant harvests, and Eretz Yisrael would flourish. Hashem will then ensure that exile will end, and they will never be uprooted from Eretz Yisrael.