- A Parasha of exile; a vision of redemption
At first glance there appears to be no connection between the prophecy of the Haftora and the parasha, but closer inspection reveals some connection with the end of the parasha. Rav Soloveitchik zt”l once commented on this in a comprehensive article (published in “HaTzofeh” newspaper, Erev Pesach 5749).
At the end of parashat Acharei-Mot we find the first mention of the possibility of exile as a form of collective punishment, “so that the land will not vomit you out for having defiled it” (18:28). This warning about exile appears several times in the Torah, and is even described in detail, but this is the first time that it is mentioned. Hence it would seem appropriate that these harsh words be balanced with a prophetic message that exile does not represent the end, and even after Israel is exiled and they wander among the nations, they are destined to return to the land and resettle it. Indeed, the prophecy concludes with the promise: “And they shall no more be uprooted from their land.”
- Israel vs. the nations
This punishment of exile found in the parasha does not arise only from Israel’s status as a special and chosen nation (as is the case in an earlier prophecy of Amos: “Only you have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I shall visit all your sins upon you” – 3:2), but also from the essential nature of Eretz Yisrael as a special and chosen land that cannot tolerate the abominations of lechery and licentiousness, as is made explicit in the text:
“Do not defile yourselves with all of these, for with these were defiled the nations which I drive out from before you, and the land was defiled and I visit its sin upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. And you shall observe My statutes and My judgments and you shall not commit any of these abominations… so the land will not vomit you out also for defiling it as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” (Vayikra 18:24-28)
Thus there is no difference between the nations that dwelled in the land in the past and Bnei Yisrael; both will be vomited out of the land and sent away from it if they commit abominations. The sacred land cannot contain within it a corrupt and licentious society. The Haftora opens with a similar idea:
“Are you not unto Me like the children of the Kushiim, Bnei Yisrael?… Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Pelishtim from Kaftor, and Aram from Kir?”
The literal message here is that nothing differentiates between Bnei Yisrael and the other nations. The fact that Hashem took Israel out of Egypt and brought them to Eretz Yisrael does not testify to their uniqueness, since a similar process took place among other nations: Hashem also took the Pelishtim out of Kaftor, and Aram out of Kir.
But that which is omitted from the parasha is filled in by the Haftora. According to the parasha it would appear that this is a natural law of the earth: a nation that is corrupt in its ways is vomited out, and it is replaced with a different nation. Thus Israel replaced the Cana’anim, and similarly other nations can in the future – heaven forbid – take Israel’s place if they are exiled. The Haftora comes to comfort Israel, promising that even if “the eyes of Hashem are upon the sinful kingdom and I will destroy it from upon the face of the earth,” nevertheless “except that I will not destroy completely the house of Yaakov,” and this is the beginning of hope for the return: “On that day I will establish the fallen tabernacle of David… and I will rebuild it as in the days of old.”
Moreover, there is a prophetic promise that the land will wait in ruins for its children, and will not give of its bounty to any foreign nation:
“And I will return the captivity of My nation Israel, and they will rebuild the waste cities and inhabit them….”
Hashem promises, via the prophet, that “they will no more be uprooted from their land which I have given them, says Hashem your God.”
- Also the Haftora for Kedoshim
This Haftora, which is initially intended to accompany parashat Acharei-Mot, sometimes also serves as the Haftora for parashat Kedoshim. This occurs when these two parashiot are read together, as we learn from the Rama (Orach Chaim siman 428,8): “When two parashiot are read (together on the same Shabbat), the Haftora is that of the latter one, except for Acharei-Mot-Kedoshim, when we read as the Haftora “Are you not unto Me like the children of the Kushiim,” which is the Haftora of Acharei-Mot.”
(Moreover, Rav Soloveitchik quotes the Lithuanian custom of reading this prophecy of Amos twice; once as the Haftora for Acharei-Mot and again as the Haftora for Kedoshim – a unique phenomenon.)
This being the case, we need to seek a connection between the Haftora and parashat Kedoshim too. We may continue along the same theme as we discussed above, since the threat of exile is common to both parashiot. In parashat Kedoshim we are told:
“And you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments and you shall perform them, that the land to which I bring you to inhabit it not vomit you out, and you shall not walk in the ways of the nation which I drive out before you, for they performed all of this and I made an end of them.” (Vayikra 20:22-23)
But the parasha of Kedoshim emphasizes the distinction:
“But I have said to you, You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey; I am the Lord your God who has separated you from the nations… and you shall be holy unto Me for I am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.” (20:24-27)
There is some tension between the conclusion of Acharei-Mot and the conclusion of Kedoshim. In the former, Israel is like all the other nations. If they commit evil deeds, they will be exiled. In Kedoshim, on the other hand, the distinction between them is emphasized. Since they are separated for Hashem, they must be holy, for He is holy.
The prophecy comes to present a sort of compromise. On one hand, they are like all the nations: just as the other nations are driven by Divine Providence and are transferred from one place to another, so are Bnei Yisrael. But Israel is unlike the other nations. If the other nations abandon their place it can be permanent, such that they will never return. But Israel is destined to return and to resettle their land.
- Divine planting and human planting
Another aspect of the parasha is emphasized in light of the Haftora:
Among the many mitzvot contained in parashat Kedoshim we find the prohibition of orla:
“When you come to the land and plant fruit-bearing trees, their fruit will be uncircumcised for you; for three years it shall be uncircumcised for you.” (19:23)
The principal message here is the prohibition of orla, while the introduction is presented as background. But a midrash chakhamim awards the beginning of this pasuk an independent status, containing its own message:
“‘When you come to the land and plant’ – Hashem says to Israel, “Although you find (the land) full of all types of good, you should not say “We shall dwell idly and not plant.” Rather, be sure to plant, as it is written: “…and plant fruit-bearing trees.”” (Old Tanchuma, 8)
This also represents a sort of directive for the future:
“And I will return the captivity of My nation Israel, and they will rebuild waste cities and inhabit them, and they will plant vineyards and drink of their wine, and will make gardens and eat of their fruits.” (9:14)
Hashem, too, will engage in planting in the future:
“And I will plant them in their land, and they will not be uprooted again from their land.”
Translated by Kaeren Fish