Amos 2:6 - 3:8
by Rabbi Dovid Siegel
This week's haftorah sensitizes us to the severity of injustice. The
prophet Amos begins by informing us of the limits of Hashem's tolerance.
Hashem says, "I can be patient over the three offenses of the Jewish
people, but the fourth is inexcusable. Namely, the sale of the righteous
for silver and the pauper for shoes. They anticipate the dirt placed on
the head of the impoverished." (2:6, 7) Amos admonishes the Jewish people
here for their insensitivity towards injustice. He complains about the
judges who would bend the law for nominal sums and exchange justice for an
inexpensive pair of shoes. They would discriminate against the poor and
even drag the impoverished through the dirt when they refused to comply
with their unjustified sentence. Over these Hashem expresses serious
disturbance and declares them unforgivable.
The Radak, in explanation of the above passages, magnifies this
disturbance and interprets the three offenses mentioned here to be the
three cardinal sins - idolatry, incest and murder. Hashem explains that
the most cardinal sins do not receive an immediate response from Above.
For these Hashem is somewhat patient and allows the offender the
opportunity to repent and correct his outrageous behavior. But the
injustice shown to the poor evokes Hashem's immediate response. Rabbeinu
Bachya (see introduction to our Parsha) explains the basis for this and
reminds us that the poor place their total trust in Hashem. Their
financial resources do not command any respect or assistance from others
which forces them to place their total trust in Hashem. Therefore, Hashem
pledges to come immediately to their defense and responds harshly to any
injustice done to them.
The Pirkei D'Reb Eliezer (Chapter 38) sees in the above passages a
reference to the infamous sale of Yoseif Hatzaddik by his brothers, the
tribes of Israel. Chazal explain that the brothers sold Yoseif for the
equivalent of twenty silver dollars and that each brother purchased a pair
of shoes with his portion of the money, two silver dollars. According to
R' Eliezer, this is the incident Amos refers to when reprimanding the
Jewish people for selling the righteous for silver and the pauper for
shoes. The prophet tells us that this sin was unforgivable and was viewed
with greater severity than every cardinal offense. With this statement the
prophet alludes to the fact that the greatest scholars of Israel, the ten
holy martyrs would be brutally murdered in atonement for this sin. Hashem
said that the sale of Yoseif, unlike all other sins, could never be
overlooked and that one day the greatest Tannaim (Mishnaic authors) would
suffer inhuman torture and be taken from us in atonement for this sin. No
offense of the Jewish people ever evoked a response so harsh as this one
and the torturous death of the ten martyrs remains the most tragic
personal event in all of Jewish history.
This week's haftorah shares with us an important perspective regarding the
offense of Yoseif's sale by focusing on a particular aspect of the
offense. As we glean from the prophet's words it was not the actual sale
that aroused Hashem's wrath, rather the condition of the sale. Amos refers
to the indignity shown to Yoseif and the insensitivity towards his
feelings, being sold for an inexpensive pair of shoes. When lamenting the
ten martyrs during the liturgy in the Yom Kippur service we accent this
dimension and recount that the wicked Roman ruler filled the entire
courtroom with shoes. This was his fiendish way of reminding the martyrs
about their indignant behavior and insensitivity towards their brother.
The upshot of this is that there was some room to justify the actual sale
of Yoseif. The Sforno (37:18) explains that the brothers truly perceived
that their life was in serious danger as long as Yoseif remained in their
surroundings. After closely following his actions and anticipating the
outcome of his inexcusable attitude and behavior the brothers found it
necessary to protect themselves from his inevitable attack of them.
Although they totally misread the entire situation from the start it can
be argued that their precautionary measures were somewhat justified and
permissible. However, Sforno draws our attention to their insensitivity
during these trying moments. The brothers are quoted to have reflected on
their decision and said, "But we are guilty for observing his pain when he
pleaded with us and we turned a dear ear to it." (Breishis 42:21 ) Even
they faulted themselves for their insensitivity towards their brother.
When he pleaded for his life they should have reconsidered and adjusted
their harsh decision. It is this insensitivity that the prophet refers to
when focusing upon the sale for shoes. Apparently, they purchased these
shoes in exchange for Yoseif to indicate that he deserved to be reduced to
dirt. Their statement reflected that whoever challenged their authority
deserved to be leveled and reduced to nothing. (see Radal to Pirkei
This expression of indignation was inexcusable and required the most
severe of responses. Hashem chose the illustrious era of the Tannaim to
respond to this offense. During those times a quorum of prominent scholars
presided over Israel which personified the lessons of brotherhood and
sensitivity. An elite group was chosen for the task, including: the Prince
of Israel, the High Priest and Rabbi Akiva who authored the
statement,"'Love your friend as yourself' is the fundamental principle of
the Torah." In atonement for the inexcusable sale Hashem decreed upon
these martyrs the most insensitive torturous death ever to be experienced.
The Tzor Hamor(see Seder Hadoros year 3880 explains that the lesson this
taught the Jewish people was eternal. After this horrifying experience the
Jewish people were finally cleansed from all effects of the infamous
offense done to Yoseif. From hereafter they could be authentically
identified as a caring and sensitive people.
From this we learn how sensitive we must be and even when our harsh
actions are justified we must exercise them with proper sensitivities. As
difficult as the balance may be we must always feel for our Jewish
brethren and show them the proper dignity and compassion they truly
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of
Kiryat Sefer, Israel.