This is not an easy Torah portion[i] or Haftarah portion as there is little joy in either. The Torah portion begins with “Ya’acov dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.” Working for Uncle Laban, whatever strife with his father Isaac is past (Genesis 35:28-29), and there was even a tentative reconciliation with Esau (Genesis 33:9-16). But Ya’acov was still not at peace – he was in fact reaping the whirlwind of his youth (Proverbs 1:27) through his sons. There are numerous good articles on this Parasha. One that I recommend is by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks entitled, “The Refusal to Be Comforted.”[ii]
Turning now to the Haftarah, there is little joy or comfort here is as well. The passage starts out with ADONAI’s charge against Israel for moral and ethical wrong doing, failure to care for their fellow Jews, and disregarding not only the mitzvot but the heart of the mitzvot as well (Amos 2:6-8). He then reminds them of their deliverance from Egypt and victory over the Amorites by His hand, which they now seemingly have chosen to forget. Therefore, judgment or discipline is coming and there will be no escape.
Michael Fishbane notes,
God’s arraignment of the nation’s faithlessness is juxtaposed to acts of divine beneficence. He brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and destroyed the mighty Amorites before them, that they might possess their land (Amos 2:9-10). … the Exodus is specifically reiterated in 3:1 (“Concerning the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt”) as a prelude to a demand of accountability: “You alone have I singled out [yada’ti] of all the families of the earth—that is why I will call you to account for all your iniquities” (3:2).[iii]
Fishbane, using the he JPS version states plainly the LORD’s charge and reason for its severity, “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth – that is why I will call you to account for all your iniquities.” The Psalmist picks up on this uniqueness of Israel as he affirms “He (ADONAI) declares His word to Jacob, His decrees and His rulings to Israel. He has not done so with any other nation. They have not known His judgments,” (Psalm 147:19-20).[iv] Israel had no recourse but to accept the discipline of the LORD because of their unique position and relationship with ADONAI.
Sadly, this was not the first time that Israel was called to make a choice as to who to follow, nor was it the first time that the LORD’s dealing with the Amorites was brought to memory. Toward the end of Joshua’s term of service, he like Moshe before him, challenged the nation as to who they would follow and serve.
“If it seems bad to you to worship ADONAI, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will worship ADONAI! Then the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake ADONAI to worship other gods! For it was ADONAI our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us all along the way that we travelled and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. It was ADONAI who drove out from before us all the peoples, the Amorites that lived in the land. Therefore, we also will worship ADONAI, for He is our God.” (Joshua 24:15-18)
Strong sentiments on the part of the people, but again like Moshe, Joshua was not convinced. He warned the people and the coming judgment in Amos validates his charge, “If you forsake ADONAI and worship foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done good to you,” (Joshua 24:20). However, just because Israel was warned in the past, does not mean that this was a once for all warning. Throughout the Early and Later Prophets, time and time again Israel was encouraged, warned, even pleaded with to repent and turn back to the ways of the LORD. “For the Lord ADONAI, will do nothing, unless He has revealed His counsel to His servants the prophets,” (Amos 3:7), this echoing the LORD’s meeting with Abraham, “…ADONAI said, “Should I keep secret from Abraham what I am about to do,” (Genesis 18:17). This warning or encouragement is not only in the Tanakh, Yeshua told His followers, “I am no longer calling you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. Now I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from My Father I have made known to you,” (John 15:15).
Notice if you will, Yeshua said “everything I have heard from My Father,” this means the good and apparently the not so good. The reason for bringing this up is in the section from the Apostolic Writings this week. We read of Israel’s discipline and judgment in the Tanakh and often wipe our brow, thanking the LORD that the same couldn’t possibly happen to us. However,
Have you forgotten the warning addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of ADONAI or lose heart when you are corrected by Him, because ADONAI disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He accepts. It is for discipline that you endure. God is treating you as sons—for what son does a father not discipline? But if you are without discipline—something all have come to share—then you are illegitimate and not sons. Besides, we are used to having human fathers as instructors—and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? Indeed, for a short time they disciplined us as seemed best to them; but He does so for our benefit, so that we may share in His holiness. Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Just as Israel is a unique people, set apart unto the LORD, so are we as believers, unique and set apart. And just as Israel’s unique relationship was the cause of ADONAI to discipline her, so to can we expect the discipline of the LORD when we err or stray from the path set before us. But notice, if you will, concerning Israel and us today, “ADONAI disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He accepts” because that discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We nor Israel receive punishment or discipline for no reason, but so that we might learn to walk in the ways of the LORD, producing fruit of righteousness, peace and joy. Therefore, even though this week’s passage is not joyous or obviously uplifting, we can take heart that the LORD who called Israel, who set her apart as His own, who has also call us to enter into His presence through Messiah Yeshua, will never leave us nor Israel because of His love and care for each of us, even in the midst of discipline.
Before closing this week, remember that Chanukah begins on Sunday night, December 6th with the lighting of the first candle in remembrance of the miracle that the LORD brought about during the time of the Maccabees. Though for most, it is the miracle that pitcher of oil that lasted eight days instead of one for the rededication of the Temple; in reality the miracle was that the LORD brought about a victory, for Israel once again against overwhelming odds and a much larger enemy force. Not because it was deserved but because He was, is, and always will be faithful to His covenantal promises to Israel – even when she herself is of little faith.
[i] Weekly Portion: Torah: Genesis 37:1 – 40:23; Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8; Apostolic Writings: Hebrews 12:5 – 11 (Proverbs 3:11 – 12) The reading from the Apostolic Writings has been chosen to match the Haftarah.
[iii] Fishbane Michael, 2002. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society. p 45