Amos 2:6 – 3:8
This week’s haftorah stresses the severity of injustice. The prophet Amos opens by saying, “So says Hashem, ‘Regarding the three offenses of the Jewish people (I can be patient) but regarding the fourth I can not refrain from responding over their selling the righteous for money and the pauper in exchange for shoes. They anxiously await the dirt of the land (to be placed) upon the head of the impoverished…” The prophet admonishes the Jewish people for their insensitivity regarding justice. The judges would accept even nominal sums of money as bribes and would render unfair judgments in exchange for an inexpensive pair of shoes. They discriminated against the poor and even dragged them through the dirt when they refused to comply with the injustice levied against them. Hashem expresses serious disturbance over these crimes and declares them unforgivable.
The Radak magnifies this principle and explains that the three offenses Amos mentioned refer to the three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality and murder. Hashem says that even the three cardinal offenses are not as severe as acts of injustice. He can be patient when responding even to the cardinal offenses but the injustice to the poor is an unforgivable crime which evokes His immediate response. Rabbeinu Bachya (in his introduction to Parshas Vayeishev) explains the basis for this and reminds us that the poor place their complete trust in Hashem. Their financial resources do not yield any respect or assistance from others and their sole security is Hashem. Therefore, Hashem pledges to come to their defense immediately 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 two silver dollars. According to R’ Eliezer, this is the incident that the prophet Amos refers to when reprimanding the Jewish people for selling the righteous for silver and the pauper for shoes. The tribes sold their righteous brother Yoseif for silver coins and purchased shoes with his value. The prophet tells us that this sin was unforgiveable and was viewed with greater severity than every cardinal offense. With this, he alludes to the fact that the greatest scholars of Israel, the ten holy martyrs would be brutally murdered in atonement for this sin. Hashem says that the sale of Yoseif, unlike other sins, could never be overlooked and that one day the Jewish nation would severely suffer for this crime. The great Tanaim (Mishnaic authors) would need to suffer inhuman torture and be taken from us in atonement for this sin. No offense of the Jewish people ever evoked a response of harsh judgment in a magnitude such as this. The torturous killing of our ten most righteous leaders remains, in fact, the most tragic personal event in all our Jewish history.
It is important to view this tragic offense and horrifying result in their proper context. The prophet draws our attention to this incident with a very specific focus. It is not the actual sale that arouses the prophet1s wrath, rather it is the mannerism of the sale. The prophet refers to the indignity shown to Yoseif during the sale, his exchange for merely a pair of shoes. The S’forno (Breishis 37:18) explains that the actual sale could be justified on the basis of a life-threatening concern. The brothers erroneously viewed Yoseif as plotting against them and feared that he would ultimately lead them into sin and punishment of major dimensions. They sold Yoseif in self defense to protect themselves from any life-threatening situation which could potentially occur. However, the manner of the sale was inexcusable to Hashem. Apparently, in their angry response to what they viewed as a conspiracy the tribes were insensitive to their brother. They intentionally denigrated him and displayed his worthlessness. They purchased shoes in exchange for their brother and indicated that one who challenges their authority belongs in the ground to be stepped upon. (see Radal on Pirkei D’Eliezer ad loc) This insensitivity for their helpless brother was the factor which was inexcusable. It is for this reason that Hashem responded to this offense and brought the most cruel insensitive death to His most righteous leaders. The ten holy martyrs severely suffered to atone for this insensitivity. The Tzror Hamor (see Seder Hadoros year 3,880) explains that Hashem finally atoned for this cruelty and the Jewish nation was cleared from its earlier erroneous behavior. The black mark was removed from them and the Jewish nation could now be authentically identified as a caring and sensitive people.