Shiur #48 The Prophecies of Amos: The Fall of Israel

  • Rav Yitzchak Etshalom
Dedicated by Rav Yitzchak and Stefanie Etshalom
in memory of Rabbi Aaron Wise z"l,
Rav Etshalom's father, on the occasion of his 20th yahrzeit - 21 Tammuz
We are now at the conclusion of our study of the dirge-"seek"-rebuke-hymn-rebuke-"seek"-dirge sequence which comprises the first seventeen verses of Chapter 5. In our recent shiur, we analyzed Amos's exhortation to "seek the good" which balanced his earlier call to "seek God" and to cease the derisha at Beit-El, Gilgal and Beer Sheva.
In this and the next shiur, we will analyze the concluding "dirge" segment which is also comprised of two verses (verses 16-17). Unlike the earlier segments of this chiasmus, this one is set off as a separate parasha setuma and concludes with Amos's usual signature formula: "Amar Hashem.” The next verse begins a parasha petucha, clearly marking our section off as independent of what follows.
We have discussed this "bridge-word" earlier (Shiur #29). Note that its use is common among the first "wave" of literary prophets (Amos, Hoshea, Mikha and Yeshayahu) — a total of thirty-five occurrences (I'm not counting the six instances in later chapters of Yeshayahu which likely belong to a later era), whereas it is quite rare in the Torah or the historiographic books of the Nevi'im (a total of twenty occurrences from Bereishit through Melakhim). This is understandable, as the genre of prophetic rhetoric, which is hardly found in those nine books, is the natural place for lakhein. What is surprising is that the word doesn't appear even once in Devarim — which is the classic speech and often seen as the archetype of that genre in Tanakh.
Significantly, and following a pattern that we've discerned numerous times, both Yirmeyahu and Yechezkel use this ominous word (almost always introducing a dire threat or punishment) 118 times![1]
That lakhein portends a threat is borne out almost immediately by the call to lament (which we will assess forthwith). Both ibn Ezra and Radak read lakhein as responding to the assumed condition of the rebuke:
Lakhein: if you fail to listen (and heed), therefore (lakhein) evil will befall you: "in all the squares there will be wailing” (ibn Ezra ad loc.)
Lakhein: if you do not return to Me, evil will befall you to the point that there will be wailing in all the squares (Radak ad loc.)[2]
One final note about lakhein. The word nearly always shows up at the beginning of a verse and is usually followed, in one fashion or another, with God's Name(s); often with multiple Names, such as Elokei Tzevaot, Ado-nai (or both, as in our case). In a sense, the word almost takes on a "drum-roll" effect, part of the rhetorical "pomp and circumstance" (or, more mildly, protocol) of the prophetic declaration of Divine anger and punishment.
Ko amar Hashem Elokei Tzevaot Ado-nai
Thus says Hashem, the Lord of Hosts, Lord
As we mentioned in the previous shiur, we will address the various approaches to the meaning of the Divine cognomen Tzevaot at the end of this chapter (at verse 27).
The use of the name Ado-nai, which is uncommon in the Torah (a mere fifteen occurrences) and the historiographic books of the Nevi'im (only seventeen instances in the 147 chapters of Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shemuel and Melakhim), becomes a common feature of the rhetorical landscape in the works of the literary prophets, reaching a crescendo with Yechezkel, who uses this Name 222 times. In other words, in the phrase that we are assessing, we are seeing phrasing that is almost an innovation of the literary prophets; but from that point on, it becomes a regular part of the lexicon. Since Amos is among the earliest (if not the earliest) of the literary prophets, it may be the case that we are looking at the introduction of these rhetorical features.
Is there reason to consider that the introduction of both lakhein and Ado-nai at this point is not coincidental? There certainly is.
The task of the literary prophets is to address the people, exhort them, inspire them — and, to some extent, frighten them into a serious reconsideration of their behavior. All of this is done with the aim of generating a wholesale social and religious renaissance. The "ominous" lakhein is part of that rhetorical scheme. The introduction of a Name for God which means "My Master,” with the royal honorific of plural (Ado-nai instead of Adoni) which, through David's reign, is used to directly address God,[3] now serves to talk about God.
Even in Melakhim, where Ado-nai is used to describe God, it is not in a frightening sense, but rather to enhance the "master" of the Ark,[4] the One who took us out of Egypt[5] or the Lord Who fights Israel's wars.[6] Indeed, Shelomo is the first to use Ado-nai in this non-direct sense — perhaps because as the first heir to the throne, it is necessary for him to declare, clearly and without hesitation, that Hashem is the only Master (see Shoftim 8:23).
Be-khol rechovot mispeid
In all the squares there shall be wailing
As rendered here, rechov, which in modern Hebrew means "street,” refers to the public square in Tanakh. For instance, when the two visitors come to Sedom, they insist on sleeping in the public square: “Lo, ki va-rechov nalin,” “No, we will sleep in the square” (Bereishit 19:2); when the Torah commands us to destroy all of the belongings of the ir ha-nidachat, the directive is to gather all of its "loot" el tokh rechovah — to the city square (Devarim 13:17).
Although the word appears sparsely in the early narrative sections of Tanakh (only six times from Bereishit through Shemuel), it seems to take on a renewed significance in the rhetoric of the prophets (again!). It is the place of public mourning and wailing (Yeshayahu 15:3) or the place of desolation during a plague (see Yirmeyahu 9:20) or devastation (Eikha 4:18). It is the place where pathetic children, starving to death, are taken by their mothers to beg for food (Eikha 2:11-12). In a beautiful turnabout on the descriptions of Yirmeyahu (both in his eponymous book as well as in Eikha), Zekharya prophesizes that:
Od yeishevu zekeinim u-zkeinot bi-rchovot Yerushalayim
Old men and women will once more live in the plazas of Yerushalayim
Ve-ish mishanto be-yado, mei-rov yamim
Each one leaning on a cane because of advanced age
U-rchovot ha-ir yimale’u yeladim vi-yladot mesachakim bi-rchovoteha
And the plazas of the city will be filled with young boys and girls, playing in her plazas (Zekharya 8:4-5)
The squares which had been the site of young children starving in the helpless and desperate embrace of their mothers; the squares which were the gathering place of unwelcome guests (Bereishit), of public destruction of idolatry (Devarim) or of public lament (Yeshayahu) now become a place of celebration and the symbol of revivification and return.[7]
Hesped/ Mispeid
Mispeid, a word that since rabbinic times has meant "eulogy,” means "mourning" in Tanakh. (Thus it is yet another example of a word which has evolved since biblical times) This is easily evidenced by the first instance of the verb in Tanakh:
Vayavo Avraham li-spod le-Sara ve-livkotah
And Avraham came li-spod Sara and to weep over her (Bereishit 23:2).
This stands in opposition to eulogizing, which is not itself an expression of grief, but rather a speech intended to elicit painful reactions on the part of those assembled. Thus, in BT Berakhot 6b, Rav Sheshet states: “Agra de-hespeida daloyei,” “The weeping it elicits is the reward for a eulogy.”[8]
Clearly, Avraham is engaging in mourning for his just-deceased wife, with both formal mourning (li-spod) as well as weeping (ve-livkotah).
In the only other use of the root in Torah, when Ya’akov's funeral cortege stops at Goren Ha-atad, the Torah states, “Vayispedu sham mispeid gadol ve-khaveid,” “They mourned there, a great and heavy mourning” (Bereishit 50:10). The verse concludes: “Vaya'as le-aviv eivel shivat yamim,” “He made for his father mourning for seven days.”
In other words, hesped is a formal part of mourning rituals. (See also Kohelet 3:5 where eit sefod is positioned against eit rekod. Dancing or skipping is usually seen as the polar opposite of mourning; see, inter alia, Tehillim 30:12.[9])
As such, the translation presented here, "In all the squares there shall be wailing," is at least misleading, if not incorrect. It might best be rendered as "in all the squares there will be [the sounds of] mourning.” This meaning also fits the rest of the verse: "Ho-ho!" "Alas, alas!" is hardly a eulogy; it is a cry of grief and desperation, best defined as mourning.
U-vkhol chutzot yomeru "Ho-ho!"
and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!”
Chutzot is the parallel to rechov; it is, ironically the biblical word for "streets,” although the urban setting of biblical times hardly had streets in a way that we would recognize. The chutzot (literally "outer areas") seems to refer to the marketplaces of the city, as distinct from the rechov which is used for mass gatherings (see Mishna Ta’anit 2:1). It may also mean "outskirts" in the sense of the areas bounding the city limits.
There are numerous calls for (or predictions of) weeping and mourning in the chutzot of the city, often in parallel with rechovot (e.g. Yeshayahu 15:3). Nonetheless, the chutzot figure prominently in the anticipated celebration in Yirmeyahu's famous prophecy. Those same chutzot Yerushalayim where the people would find desolation (7:34) and would not be able to find justice (5:1) are to be the scene of rebirth and rejoicing:
Od yishama ba-makom ha-zeh asher atem omerim chareiv hu mei-ein adam u-mei'ein beheima be-arei Yehuda u-vchutzot Yerushalayim ha-nshamot mei-ein adam u-mei'ein yosheiv u-mei'ein beheima; kol sasson ve-kol simcha, kol chatan ve-kol kalla, kol omerim hodu et Hashem Tzevaot ki tov Hashem ki le-olam chasdo, mevi'im toda beit Hashem, ki ashiv et shevut ha-aretz ke-varishona amar Hashem. (Yirmeyahu 33:10-11)
Thus says the LORD: Yet again there shall be heard in this place, whereof you say: It is waste, without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say: “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His mercy endures forever,” even of them that bring offerings of thanksgiving into the house of the LORD. For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, says the LORD.
As noted, however, the chutzot are broadly seen as the twin setting to the rechovot and the mourning and desolation (and dearth of justice) associated with one is usually found (or not, such as the case may be) in the other.
The onomatopoetic "ho-ho" is one of a variety of phrases used in Tanakh to depict wailing. Most closely related to ours is hoi (occurs fifty-one times in Tanakh, including twice in Amos); aha (fifteen occurrences, half of which are in Yirmeyahu and Yechezkel); oi (twenty-three occurrences, including twice in the Torah); avoi (once matched with oi in Mishlei 23:29); ha (once in Yechezkel 30:2) and oya (once in Tehillim 120:5). A quick skim of the concordance results reveals — no surprise here — that nearly all of these lamentation-cries appear in prophetic literature (we are including Eikha in this scope). Some of the concordances regard our singular ho-ho as a variant of hoi-hoi.
Vekare’u ikkar el eivel
They shall call the farmers to mourning
This phrase has three possible avenues of interpretation, none more compelling than the others. Before attending to the syntactical and grammatic issues, we should make note of the possible alliteration employed by Amos —  vekare’u::ikkar. Even though the second letter in the first word is a kof and the second letter in "farmer" is a kaf, these two sounds may have been close enough even in biblical times (in most current dialects of Hebrew they are virtually indistinguishable) as to be legitimate sound-matches for use in an alliterative flair.
Looking at the phrase itself, there is some (perhaps deliberate) ambiguity. Are the farmers the object of vekare’u, being summoned to lament? Alternatively, are the farmers to summon each other to lament? Yet a third possibility is that the farmers are being called to summon others to lament, as if the verse stated ve-ikkar(im) kare'u.
This last reading may seem to be a stretch, as it assumes a plural verb (kare'u) as modifying a singular noun (ikkar). Keep in mind, however, that the "farmer" here is almost assuredly an example of a collective singular, a common biblical idiom for depicting a group (e.g. “shivim nefesh,” “seventy souls” in Shemot 1:5, Devarim 10:22, which is literally written “seventy soul,” in the singular). Using the parenthetic example, this read is defensible: in Shemot 1, the shivim nefesh are defined as “yotze'ei yerekh Ya’akov,” “the ones who emanated from Yaakov's loins.”[10] In Tanakh's rhetoric, a collective singular noun can be modified by a plural verb.
Before addressing these three possibilities, we ought to note that this is one of the few instances where ikkar appears in Tanakh (six all told); the word has its roots in Akkadian, from the Sumerian (ikkaru). In two other instances (Yeshayahu 61:5 and Yoel 1:11) they are matched, as they are here, with the koremim (vintners, see the discussion in the next shiur). In our verse and in Yoel, farmers and vintners are summoned to mourn and the explicit context in Yoel is a crop plague which has devastated (or will devastate) the agronomic base. Yirmeyahu 14:4 also appropriates the image from Yoel and Amos of the lamenting farmers (without the matched vintners).
Rashi has a curious take on our verse: "The groups of farmers who are plowing in the fields will encounter the voice of lament of the mourners crying out in the streets.”
This is a unique take, seeing the verb vekare’u with the preposition el as meaning "to have sounds meeting each other.” Still, Rashi does address the syntactical problem and understands that the farmers are to be actively involved in the lamentation.
Although at first blush Rashi's understanding may seem a bit awkward, once we assess the structure of this passage, we'll see internal support for his approach.
Ibn Ezra has a different read: "When they observed the commandments of Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu, they would harvest and the farmers would call out to rejoice and feast; now, they(?) will call them(?) to mourning.”
Note how he keeps the syntactical problem at bay, not defining who is calling whom.
Radak presents a clearer picture: “The farmer is the one who toils in the fields and they will call him to come to the mourning, since his work and labor will be for naught, since the seeds and plants have been plagued; they planted but did not reap."
He makes the interaction easy to imagine and follow. Others, who are mourning the destruction of the crops, will direct the farmers to go join the mourners.
Hakham reads our phrase as: "the farmers will announce a lamentation,” building off of the phrasing in Yeshayahu 22:12:
Vayikra Ado-nai Hashem Tzevaot ba-yom ha-hu li-vkhi u-lmispeid…
And in that day did the Lord, the GOD of hosts, call to weeping, and to lamentation…
He is reading the verb kara as making an announcement that weeping and lamentation should ensue.
Alternatively, Hakham suggests, the farmers may be the ones who are summoned to call others to join the lamentation.
Much of this nuanced debate depends on how we read the next phrase and how we see it tied to this one.
U-mispeid el yode'ei nehi
And to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation
Note that Amos uses mispeid with repeated emphasis; even though the sadness and lamentation is apparently over an agricultural plague, calls for weeping and lamentation are appropriate as if people had died. This is because the destruction of the crop spells famine and widespread suffering, possibly leading to death. The farmers, however, are the first ones to recognize it and to see their own labors bearing no fruit (see Radak's comments above).
The missing verb here would seem to be vekare’u, gapped from the previous phrase. The farmers are called to summon mourners and those who are practiced in wailing — or else the farmers are themselves to engage in lamentation and be led by the "wailers" (see the different approaches above).
In both biblical and rabbinic times, there were professional "wailers" whose job was to participate in funerals (see Mishna Moed Katan 3:8-9) or in other public displays of sadness (see Yirmeyahu 9:16) and to excite the crowd to weeping through their antiphonal lamentation. There is good reason to assume that the book of Kinot (which we call Eikha) is structured along just these lines and with this intent: to provide a script for lamenters through which they could engage those gathered and inspire them to weep.
Perhaps a structural look at our verse may help solve the question of who is being summoned for whom:
As can be seen here, the passage is structured chiastically. The key word mispeid appears at the end of A1 and at the beginning of B2. The two verbs — saying (yomeru) and summoning/ calling (vekare’u) — appear in A2 and B1. The farmer and those who are in the chutzot at the center of the piece, fitting nicely with Rashi's interpretation of the phrase. It seems, then, that the farmers are called to act at the center of the lamentation — not to summon others, but to be the chief wailers.
In our next shiur, we will complete our study of this passage, focusing on v. 17, and then take a broader look at the entire sequence. 

[1] It is prudent to note that both Yirmeyahu and Yechezkel use lakhein in contexts which, prima facie, seem to be favorable to the audience; e.g. Yirmeyahu, from Chapter 48 on, in his prophecies against the nations, or Yechezkel in Chapter 36, in the prophecy that he is to deliver concerning the mountains of Israel. Even though these prophecies bear what is ultimately glad tidings for the Jewish people, they are tinged with Divine anger and/ or punishment. The sense is that the word lakhein, harmless on its own and with no dire meaning, is used in prophetic rhetoric to introduce the Divine action arising from God's wrath.
[2] It is unclear if they disagree about the syntax and its pursuant meaning: whether the threat is the lament or that the lament will be the human and natural response to unspoken evils.
[3] E.g. Bereishit 15:2, 8, 20:4; Shemot 4:10, 13, 5:22, Bamidbar 14:17; Devarim 3:24; Yehoshua 7:7-8; Shoftim 6:15, 22; II Shemuel 7:18-20, 28-29
[4] I Melakhim 2:26, 3:15
[5] Ibid 8:53.
[6] Ibid 22:6, II Melakhim 7:6, 19:23.
[7] One of my beloved teachers, who taught at a number of seminaries and yeshivot attended by foreign students, would annually ask his students who were going back to the States for Pesach to bring back jump ropes and other similar toys. At the first post-Pesach class, he would come to class with a big bag, collect all of the toys and go to one of the poorer neighborhoods of Yerushalayim. He would distribute the toys and sit back, watching children playing bi-rchovot Yerushalayim and would weep at the awareness that a prophecy which lay dormant as a Messianic hope for over 2600 years had now been realized and that he had the zekhut to witness it and to play a role in seeing it actualized. He has these verses framed on his wall in the entryway to his house, with Tehillim 119:97.
[8] See also Shulchan Arukh, YD 344:1.
[9] Indeed, this very verse speaks to this definition: "You turned my mourning into a dance."
[10] See also Shemot 20:14, “Ve-khol ha-am (collective singular) ro'im (plural verb) et ha-kolot…”