The Haftarah begins with the following question:
`הֲלוֹא כִבְנֵי כֻשִׁיִּים אַתֶּם לִי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נְאֻם ה’
“Aren’t you like the sons of the Nubians to me, sons of Israel?” says Hashem. (Amos 9:7)
It appears that G-d is implying that the Jewish People are just like anyone else, and that exotic foreign nations at the edge of civilization have as much claim on Him as we do. The Haftarah then goes on to say how Israel will be destroyed for its sins, and the Jewish People exiled and dispersed throughout the world.
It is not unusual for the Tanach criticize the Jewish People. But after reading the Parsha of Kedoshim, which lists dozens and dozens of commandments of morality unique to the Jewish People, and sets very high standards for our actions, to then read, “Eh, you might as well be Nubian for all I care,” is a little harsh.
However, this Haftarah is technically not the Haftarah of Kedoshim. It is actually the Haftarah read for the combined Parsha of Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim . The Haftarah tells us to look at the two Parshot as a single unit. Doing so creates a different picture, one that correlates much better with the Haftarah.
Chapter 18 in Acharei-Mot and Chapter 20 in Kedoshim have very similar structure and content. They each contain a list of forbidden incestuous relations, and each ends with a warning that it was this type of immorality that caused the previous inhabitants of the Land of Israel to lose their right to live there. Acharei Mot and Kedoshim use similar phrases to refer to the nations that had lived in the land, and the reaction of the land to their behavior:
(כד) אַל תִּטַּמְּאוּ בְּכָל אֵלֶּה כִּי בְכָל אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם:
(כה) וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ
וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ
(כו) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם:
24) Do not defile through all of these, since the nations that I am throwing out before you defiled themselves through these.
25) The land became defiled, and I commanded that its sin be paid; thus the land spewed out its inhabitants.
26) You must keep My laws and My commandments, and not do any of these disgusting things; citizen and resident among you. (VaYikra 18)
(כב) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת כָּל מִשְׁפָּטַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא תָקִיא אֶתְכֶם הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לָשֶׁבֶת בָּהּ:
(כג) וְלֹא תֵלְכוּ בְּחֻקֹּת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם כִּי אֶת כָּל אֵלֶּה עָשׂוּ וָאָקֻץ בָּם:
(כד) וָאֹמַר לָכֶם אַתֶּם תִּירְשׁוּ אֶת אַדְמָתָם וַאֲנִי אֶתְּנֶנָּה לָכֶם לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הִבְדַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הָעַמִּים:
22) You must keep all My laws and all My commandments, and do them; then the land that I am bringing you to live there will not spew you out.
23) And you will not follow the laws of the nation which I am throwing out before you; for they did all of these things and I rejected them.
24) I said do you, you will inherit their land, and I will give it to you to inherit, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am Hashem your G-d, who separated you from all other nations. (Vayikra 20)
Based on these verses which appear both Parshot, we have the following information:
• The nations that lived in the Land of Israel before us behaved in a way that G-d found unacceptable. In particular, their concept of incest was not consistent with G-d’s intentions for His world.
• The Land of Israel, as an almost sentient entity, cannot tolerate this particular behavior. It cannot allow a society that acts in this manner to exist within its borders, and must “spew them out”.
• G-d has set apart the Jewish People and given us a set of laws that is different from those of the previous inhabitants in the Land. Our continued presence in the land is contingent upon us following these laws.
The message of Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim is that our uniqueness has a purpose.G-d chose us and gave us His Torah so that our actions would be different from those of other nations. Therefore, if we repeat what they have done, then we have no claim on a special relationship with G-d, and no claim on the Land of Israel. As the Haftarah puts it, “you might as well be Nubians.”
The converse is also true:
וכי כושיים שמן? והלא ישראל שמן! אלא: מה כושי משונה בעורו – אף ישראל משונין במעשיהן מכל האומות.
“You are Nubians to Me” – What, their name is “Nubian”? No, their name is “Israel”. So why are they called “Nubian”? Just as an Nubian has distinctive skin, so too, Israel’s actions are distinctive from all other nations. (Talmud Mo’ed Katan 16b)
This Midrash does not read the verse, “You are Nubians to Me,” as a sarcastic dismissal of the Jewish People. Instead, it sees it as an affirmation of the source of our uniqueness. The distinctiveness of the Jewish People is found in our actions, in the way we structure our society. Our values are not based on the mores of the corrupt cultures that surround us, they are based on G-d’s Torah.
The Haftarah, too, ends on a positive note, describing our land overflowing with abundance:
הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם ה’ … וְהִטִּיפוּ הֶהָרִים עָסִיס וְכָל הַגְּבָעוֹת תִּתְמוֹגַגְנָה:וְשַׁבְתִּי אֶת שְׁבוּת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבָנוּ עָרִים נְשַׁמּוֹת וְיָשָׁבוּ ….וּנְטַעְתִּים עַל אַדְמָתָם וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם אָמַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ:
Now the days are coming, says Hashem… the mountains will drip with juice,
and all the hills will be lush…. I will return the remnant of My people, Israel, and they will build desolate cities and live in them… I will plant them in their land, and they will never again be uprooted from their land that I have given them, says Hashem …” (Amos 9:13-15)
The Haftarah tells us that the Jewish People are capable of living up to the standards set in Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim. Ultimately, we will be worthy of living in the “land flowing with milk and honey.”
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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל