Shiur #86: The Prophecies of Amos: DAY OF DOOM
A THIRST FOR GOD’S WORD (8:11-14)
THE SEARCH (verses 11-13) REVISITED
In last week’s shiur, we analyzed the verses that describe the aimless wandering that the “famine for the words of God” will generate. People will wander to the ends of the earth (or of the Land), seeking the word of God without finding it. Until that point in the vision, the use of a famine as a metaphor is successful and seamless.
Our difficulties began in v. 13 which singled out the beautiful young maidens and the young men as the ones suffering from the “drought,” fainting and swooning from the thirst. I observed that the description was uncomfortably close to leaving the world of metaphor, specifically its mention of the young maidens and young men. I suggested that we need to reevaluate the vision accordingly.
One additional fly in the ointment is the apparent contradiction within Midrashic traditions. Even though, as pointed out in Shiur #84, the Midrashim see our vision as eschatological (as opposed to the broad interpretive tradition of the Rishonim), there is a significant divide as to how to understand the meaning and realization of this vision.
On the one hand, as exemplified by Tosefta Eduyot 1:1, there is a strong tradition of reading this passage as the metaphor it purports to be.
When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavneh, they said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”
“The word of the Lord”; that is prophecy.
“The word of the Lord”; that is the end of days.
“The word of the Lord”; that nothing in Torah will seem analogous to another.
Let us begin with Hillel and Shammai…
Although Tractate Eduyot is a project of the first generation of Yavneh, the opening phrase, “ke-shenikhnesu rabboteinu la-kerem be-Yavneh,” is used in reference to the returning group, after the decimation experienced at the defeat of Beitar (135 CE) and the (barest) survival of the ensuring Hadrianic persecutions. Thus, it is likely that this Tosefta passage dates to that murky dawn after the bleak night of persecution.
In BT Shabbat 138b, this tosefta has an addendum:
…And what is the meaning of: “They shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it”? They said: It is destined that a woman will take a loaf of teruma bread and circulate among the synagogues and study halls to ascertain whether it is ritually impure or whether it is ritually pure, and there will be none who understands…
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Heaven forfend that the Torah should be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated: “And this song shall answer to him as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from his seed” (Devarim 31:21). Rather, how do I explain: “They shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it”? It means that they will not find clear halakha and clear teaching together.
On the other hand, a midrash which appears in numerous places (at least three, namely in Bereishit Rabba, Ruth Rabba and Lekach Tov [Pesikta Zutarta]) counts our vision as one of the ten famines that will plague the world throughout history. Here is the version in Ruth Rabba (1:9)
"There was a famine in the land". Ten famines have come into the world: one in the days of Adam the first, and one in the days of Lemekh, and one in the days of Avraham, and one in the days of Yitzchak, and one in the days of Ya’akov, and one in the days of Eliyahu, and one in the days of Elisha, and one in the days of David, and one in the days "the judges judged" (Ruth 1:1), and one which proceeds and comes to the world.
The Midrash goes on to bring prooftexts for each of these enumerated famines.
One in the days of Adam the first, as it is said: "Cursed be the ground because of you … And one in the days “the judges judged,” as it is said: "and there was famine in the land." And one that proceeds and comes to the world, as it is written: "When I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water.”
In other words, the Midrash sees our famine as a real deprivation of bread and water, the sort that comes from time to time. Perhaps it is significant to note that in Bereishit Rabba, the enumeration is a bit different:
- Ruth/ Elimelekh
- Occasional famines (that come to the world)
- One in the future (our vision)
We might post that the difference between these two midrashim in their variant enumerations rests in understanding the nature of the famine prophesized by Amos. Is it truly an end-of-days scenario, which means that even in the Midrashic period it had not yet been experienced? If so, we might count ten famines that already happened — and one which we await (the eleventh). If, on the other hand, this famine is the regular experience of famine that comes and goes in the world, it would be included in those that have already happened.
The Pesikta (Ruth, 1) seems to sense the difficulty in each of these midrashim. It leaves the list at ten famines, but introduces the last one with a curious phrase:
Echad mitgalgel u-va la-olam le-atid la-vo
One which proceeds and comes to the world in the future…
In any case, it is clear that this Midrashic tradition understands our vision as one of a real famine, without food or water, as part of a series that includes the famines in Avraham’s time, in Eliyahu’s time and so forth.
Where does the Midrash get the notion that our vision ought to be included in the “meta-history” of famines?
We’ll take another look at the text of v. 11, against the backdrop of similarly constructed phrases in Tanakh, and see if there is another way to understand it. This approach will support both Midrashic directions of seeing our famine as purely a spiritual-intellectual longing for God’s word as well as a physical deprivation of food and water and the inevitable fainting which ensues. For purposes of our analysis, we will set up the transliterated Hebrew opposite the English text.
THE “LO VE-LO KI IM” PATTERN
Our focus here will be on the last three clauses, which follow the pattern of Lo [X] ve-lo [Y] ki im [Z]. In other words, a negation of two familiar elements in favor of an unexpected one. There is a parallel phrase elsewhere in Tanakh which we will examine. In addition, there are a number of verses throughout Tanakh which carry this same syntactical scheme, using alternative words. We will look at two examples of that as well.
The commonly assumed intent of the verse is to fully negate the expected meaning of the key word (in our case, ra’av) and to replace it with the unfamiliar meaning (li-shmoa et divrei Hashem). Indeed, in legal texts, this is invariably the intent. For instance:
Lo tishtachaveh l-eiloheihem ve-lo ta’ovdeim ve-lo ta’aseh ke-ma’aseihem; ki hareis tehareseim ve-shabber teshabber matzeivoteihem
You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor follow their practices, rather you shall utterly overthrow them and demolish their pillars. (Shemot 23:24)
And in a parallel oratory, we find:
…u-vesheim eloheihem lo-tazkiru ve-lo tashbiu ve-lo ta’avdum ve-lo tishtachavu lahem. Ki im ba-Shem Elokeikhem tidbaku…
…neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor worship them; rather cleave unto the Lord your God… (Yehoshua 23:7-8)
It is clear in both of these texts that worshipping other gods, swearing by their names or anything else of that sort is absolutely banned; the only legitimate avenue of swearing, for instance, is by Hashem’s Name.
This meaning also appears to be the only reasonable one in several narrative texts. For instance, we find in Yehoshua 22 that the two-and-a-half tribes which settle on the eastern bank of the Jordan build an enormous altar. When they are challenged by their western brethren, they explain that their altar was never intended to foment a revolution or a schism:
Vanomer na’aseh na lanu li-vnot et ha-mizbeiach lo le-ola ve-lo le-zavach. Ki eid hu beineinu u-veineikhem u-vein doroteinu achareinu la-avod et avodat Hashem lefanav be-oloteinu u-vizvacheinu u-vishlameinu ve-lo yomeru veneikhem machar le-vaneinu ein lakhem chelek ba-Shem
Therefore we said: Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice; rather it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt-offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace-offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come: You have no portion in the Lord. (Yehoshua 22:26-27)
In this case, the intent is clear. The eastern tribal leaders are responding to the claim that they intended to set up an actual worship site away from Shilo. Their defense only makes sense if the negations are absolute – “not for burnt-offerings” (at all), “nor for sacrifice” (at all).
However, there are texts in Tanakh where this pattern (within a consistent lexical range) does not mean to negate the first objects of the list, but rather to include the last item mentioned as well.
For example, in Moshe’s recounting of the Revelation at Sinai, he declares:
Lo et avoteinu karat Hashem et ha-berit ha-zot; ki itanu, anachnu eileh fo ha-yom kulanu chayim
The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, rather with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. (Devarim 5:3)
There is no question that Moshe does not intend to exclude the previous generation, who all stood at Sinai, from the covenant. His point is, in effect, to say:
The Lord did not make this covenant only with our fathers, rather even with us…
Perhaps a more poignant example appears twice in Yirmeyahu:
Lakhein hinei yamim ba’im ne’um Hashem ve-lo-yei’amar od chai Hashem asher he’ela et Benei Yisrael mei-eretz Mitzrayim. Ki im chai Hashem asher he’ela et Benei Yisrael mei-eretz tzafon u-mikol ha-aratzot asher hidicham shama…
Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that it shall no more be said: “As the Lord lives, that brought up the Israelites out of the land of Egypt,” rather: “As the Lord lives, that brought up the Israelites from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither He had driven them…” (Yirmeyahu 16:14-15; also see 23:7-8)
The discussion regarding the meaning of this passage in Tosefta Berakhot (1:10) does make mention of Ben Zoma’s opinion which seems to indicate that the Exodus will actually be unmentioned and forgotten in the future (!), but the straightforward reading follows the Sages:
Ben Zoma said to the Sages: And is the Exodus from Egypt mentioned in the days of the Messiah? Was it not already said that Yirmeyahu (23:7-8) prophesied that in the days of the Messiah: “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that it shall no more be said: ‘As the Lord lives, that brought up the Israelites out of the land of Egypt,’ rather: ‘As the Lord lives, that brought up and conveyed the seed of the House of Israel from the northern land, and from all the countries whither I had driven them…”
The Sages rejected this claim and they said to him that these verses do not mean that in the future the Exodus from Egypt will be uprooted from its place and will be mentioned no more. Rather, redemption from the subjugation of the kingdoms will be primary and the Exodus from Egypt will be secondary.
In other words, according to the Sages, the passage ought to be read as we suggested above:
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that it shall no more be said: “As the Lord lives, that brought up the Israelites out of the land of Egypt” only, rather it will also be said: “As the Lord lives, that brought up the Israelites from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither He had driven them…”
Perhaps the most obvious example of this pattern with the “not only…but also” meaning is another passage in Yirmeyahu:
Ko amar Hashem Tzevaot Elokei Yisrael: oloteikhem sefu al zivcheikhem ve-ikhlu vasar. Ki lo dibarti et avoteikhem ve-lo tzivitim be-yom hotzi’i otam mei-eretz Mitzrayim al divrei ola va-zavach. Ki im et ha-davar ha-zeh tziviti otam l-eimor: shimu ve-koli vehayiti lakhem l-Eilokim ve-atem tihyu li le-am; vahalakhtem be-khol ha-derekh asher atzaveh etkhem lema’an yitav lakhem.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; rather this thing I commanded them, saying: Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you. (Yirmeyahu 7:21-23)
It is abundantly clear throughout the first seven chapters of Vayikra that God commands many details regarding “ola va-zavach.” The Rishonim (ad loc) find ways to smooth over the reading such that Yirmeyahu’s claim does not directly contradict Vayikra. However, Yirmeyahu’s meaning seems quite clear. He is rebuking those who believe that the offerings are an end in and of themselves, and that even bereft of proper intent, moral behavior or sincere contrition, that they are desired by God. Using our modifiers, we would read this as follows:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices only; rather this thing I also (perhaps — mainly) commanded them, saying: Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.
We have fairly conclusively demonstrated that the pattern “lo… ve-lo… ki im…” may not always mean to negate the antecedents but may be adding a new (surprising) one to them — or even pushing the surprising addition ahead of the usual, expected ones.
As mentioned above, there is one verse in Tanakh that hews quite perfectly to our pattern. As an interpretation of the vision of the golden Menora, at the epicenter of Zekharya’s night of seven visions, he is given the following message from his interpreting angel (ha-malakh ha-dover bi):
Vaya’an vayomer eilai: zeh devar Hashem el Zerubavel l-eimor: lo ve-chayil ve-lo ve-kho’ach ki im be-ruchi amar Hashem Tzevaot.
Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying: This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubavel, saying: Not by might, nor by power, rather by My spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Although many would read this prophecy as a negation of using financial power (chayil) or military might (ko’ach) to rebuild the Temple and reestablish Yerushalayim under Persian rule, there are a number of mitigating factors. First of all, per Ezra 5:1-2, both Chaggai and Zekharya provide the moral impetus and support for the rebuilding. Chaggai’s two chapters revolve around military might and a (semi-) return of Zerubavel (as a “brand plucked by the fire” and a remnant of the Davidic line) to power. In addition, the two olive branches in front of the Menora represent, per v. 14, the two “sons of Yitzhar.” Rashi, ibn Ezra and others understand that this refers to two leaders who are to be anointed with olive oil: the king (Zerubavel) and the high priest (Yehoshua). In other words, both political/ military might and spiritual purity will be needed to rebuild.
As such, it is more likely that we should read the verse as follows:
Vaya’an vayomer eilai: zeh devar Hashem el Zerubavel l-eimor: lo (rak) ve-chayil ve-lo (rak) ve-kho’ach ki im (gam) be-ruchi amar Hashem Tzevaot.
Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying: This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying: Not (only) by might, nor (only) by power, rather (also) by My spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
The inclusion of the spirit is the unexpected element here — not only will financial and military strength be required (as indeed they were; see, e.g. Nechemya 4), but also the spirit will play a role in the rebuilding.
BACK TO AMOS 8:11
Given the various difficulties we encounter with our passage, both within the text (the fainting maidens) as well as the varied and seemingly contradictory treatment within the midrashim, I’d like to propose a similar reading of our text:
The famine that Amos envisions is, first and foremost, a real drought, one of those ten famines that will transpire throughout history. The beautiful young people will swoon from thirst and faint from hunger, as a painful description of any famine would have it. Still, there will be a famine for divrei Hashem as well — and this may be interpreted in one of three ways, each of which is a feasible and reasonable interpretation.
It may mean that the people will realize that their (real) famine stems from a distance from God; to resolve their (real) hunger, they will try to get to the root of the problem by attaching themselves to God’s word. This is an optimistic reading — perhaps too optimistic for Amos.
Alternatively, we might read divrei Hashem (or, more accurately, devar Hashem) as rain itself. (See Tehillim 147:18; see also Yeshayahu 55:10-11). In this case, the difference between other famines and this one is that the people realize that rain is a blessing of God and they will seek that out. This is, again, too mild and leaves the spiritual yearning as a distant second to the real famine. Our analysis, above, argues in favor of the ki im clause as taking center stage. In addition, the use of devar Hashem as “rain” is so unusual and uncommon that it may be difficult to build a case for this meaning.
Finally — and I think this to be the most likely meaning of the passage — the people may seek a seer who can guide them back to God and can, thereby, alleviate the famine. In other words, a realization that the famine is the result of their own wayward behavior may finally sink in (something that Amos has been working on throughout). They may look for divrei Hashem, as the Rishonim would have it, meaning a prophet. They will seek the prophet but will not be able to find such a person; thus, they will have no idea how to return to God, bring Divine favor back to the Land and bring an end to the famine. I believe that this is the most likely meaning here, since Amos’s whole point is to say that now that there are prophets around, the people are ignoring their words; yet, the day will come (hinei yamim ba’im) well after the cessation of prophecy (it is, after all, an eschaton), when troubles come to the Land and then, the people will want the prophets they ignored — but the prophets will no longer be available.
In next week’s shiur, we will complete our study of this vision, as well as this chapter.
 It seems that these difficulties lead Paul (in his Mikra Le-Yisrael) to divide our vision into two: a “spiritual famine” of vv. 11-12 and a “real” famine of vv. 13-14 complete with swooning maidens. The difficulties in his approach are fairly clear: besides dividing a Masoretic paragraph into two distinct and independent sections, the reference to the “thirst” is unanchored — where does this second (real) “thirst” come from? Our analysis allows us to maintain the Masoretic division and see this vision as a single, unified whole.
 I am indebted to my teacher, Prof. Yoel Elitzur, for pointing me to some of these passages