Oppress the Poor
Haftara of Perasha Vayeshev
Oppress the Poor
Amos Ch. 2
This is what G-d says, for three iniquities of Israel and on four I will not forgive them, for their sale of a righteous person for money and a pauper for a pair of shoes. Who burden the poor so much that their heads are covered with dust, and they have twisted the ways of the straight, and a man and his father go the young lady (a harlot) in order to desecrate my holy name. They recline on pledged garments while they sit by any alter and drink wine which has been acquired through the collection of a fine.
In Jewish law a person can be sold into slavery if he can not pay his debts. The people which the prophet Amos refers to were accustomed to frame righteous people and pay off judges to have these people sold off. They felt that the life of the innocent people was less important than a small profit they could make on such a sale. This profit was just enough to purchase a pair of shoes. This is similar to the American cliche “He is so greedy he would sell his mother.”
If this was not enough the Jews of those times would oppress the poor so much that their heads were covered in dirt. I am sure that they also scapegoated the poor by calling them dirty. The only reason why they would have been so dirty is from oppression. They were so diabolical that they took pleasure in causing truly righteous people to sin. In modern language that means they “opened the mind of the backward religious person.” With absolutely no embarrassment a father and his son would go together to meet a young lady.
The last quoted Pasuk refers to those who may have had good intentions when taking a loan from a poor person in return for a pledge. It is, however, forbidden to make use of such a pledge. Additionally, they drank wine at their alters which was taken as a fine from the poor. They would go to the alter to bring offerings to G-d for their sins while doing this they constantly oppressed the poor.
Our Haftara continues by discussing how G-d has done so much good for the Jewish people and that they have been terrible people in return. G-d took them out of Egypt, destroyed the mighty Emori people who inhabited the land of Canaan. He made the best young folk of Benie Yisrael into prophets and Nezirim. In return for all this goodness they forced the Nezirim to drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesize. The Haftara ends by informing Benie Yisrael. that it is impossible for a prophet to conceal his prophecy: “When a lion roars who will not fear, when G-d speaks who will not prophecize.”
Our Perasha features Yosef being sold by his brothers. This story is similar to the above discussion. The Midrash says that the ten brothers sold Yosef for only 20 measures of money. They then divided it up evenly and each one purchased a pair of shoes.
The profundity of the likeness between the story of Yosef and our Haftara is amazing. The Midrash is not teaching us a quaint historical fact that the brothers purchased a pair of shoes with the money they got for Yosef. Instead the Torah is demonstrating that even at the earliest stage of Jewish development they objected to the ethical teachings of the prophets.
In our Perasha we see Yosef prophesying in dreams that the whole family will bow down to him. All of what was then Benie Yisrael tried to make him keep his prophecy to himself. Later in Jewish history they threw the prophet Yirmiyahu into a cistern of water where he almost drowned. This was also because they did not like what he had to say. In our Perasha after they threw Yosef into the pit they sat down to eat, obviously they were in possession of his coat. This is similar to the Haftara where we have already seen that they would recline on pledged garment next to alters for feasts. I am sure that the similarity is far deeper than our discussion.
I wonder if we had a real prophet if we would listen to him.