Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger
Torah Portion: Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim
We read a double Torah portion this week, Acharei-Mot/ Kedoshim, and there are
different haftarot assigned to the portions depending on whether you read them
together or separately. Not only that, but there are different traditions for
the haftarah in the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities; today we’re discussing
the reading from the book of Amos, from the Ashkenazi custom.
The prophet Amos is an early prophet, who spoke harsh words against both the
Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel, condemning their religious and moral
sins while also proclaiming an eventual renewal of the united monarchy. That
time will be a time of great blessing; the prophet says that the land will be so
blessed that the “mountains shall drip wine:”
” When the plowman shall meet the reaper,
And the treader of grapes
Him who holds the [bag of] seed;
When the mountains shall drip wine
And all the hills shall wave [with grain].
I will restore My people Israel.
They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine;
They shall till gardens and eat their fruits.” [Amos 9:13-14]
It’s a consoling image for a divided people, and yet the images of vineyards and
fields overflowing with their harvest brings to mind mitzvot, commandments, from
the Torah portion, regarding agricultural bounty:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the
edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick
your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave
them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God.” [Vayikra/Leviticus
These mitzvot, of leaving the edges of the fields and the gleanings [these are
called peah, the corners, and leket, the gleanings], teach us a powerful
perspective: when we are blessed with enough, some of what we think is “ours” is
really only entrusted to our stewardship for sharing with others. In our
society, so many have so much, and yet the action of leaving for others teaches
us powerful lessons about spiritual fulfillment, which is not found in having
more than one needs but in acts of service to God through giving to others.
Getting back to our haftarah, I wonder if the images above of the hills waving
with grain and the mountains dripping with wine are meant to remind the people
that such blessings are not just for individuals, but opportunities to build
powerful communities of caring and inclusion. Along with the fields and
vineyards comes the mitzvah of peah and leket, leaving for the poor; in the
Biblical mind, you can’t have the blessing without the mitzvah to share it.
In our day, even in these hard times, the Biblical linking of blessing and
obligation is no less relevant, even if our bounty takes forms other than the
produce of the field. If we are blessed, we must give, because ultimately, what
is truly ours is not our property, but the goodness we have brought forth.