This week’s haftorah presents the Jewish nation in a most unique context.In his last words of prophecy the prophet Amos describes the Jewish people in a very peculiar manner. He says in the name of Hashem, “Aren’t you likened to the Kushites, to be Mine?” (9:7) Who are Kushites and in what way are the Jewish people compared to them? Chazal in the Yalkut Shimoni(157) interpret the term Kushites to refer to the Ethiopian community whose skin color is distinctly different than all other nations. This physical distinction renders it virtually impossible for the Kushites to intermingle with anyone without maintaining their national identity.Chazal continue that in this same manner the Jewish people are distinctly different than all other nations. The moral and ethical code of the observant Jewish people inhibits them from intermingling with the nations of the world. The drastic skin color contrast of the Ethiopians serves as a striking analogy to the drastic ethical contrast between the Jewish people and all other nations.
The prophet continues and reminds the Jewish people that it is this distinct ethical conduct which renders them Hashem’s chosen people. After likening the Jewish people to the Kushites, the prophet completes his analogy with the profound words, “to be Mine”. The Metzudos Dovid (9:7)explains this to mean that we are Hashem’s people exclusively because of our distinguished ethical conduct. He adds that we will remain Hashem’s special nation as long as we possess elevated ethical standards. The prophet then draws our attention to our earliest origins and says, “Didn’t Hashem bring you up from the land of Egypt?” (ad loc.) Malbim explains that these words allude to the distinguished qualities of the Jewish people in whose merit they were liberated from Egypt. Although they existed for two hundred years in the corrupt and immoral Egyptian environment they remained a distinct and distinguished entity. Their moral code of dress and speech reflected their pure attitudes about life which made intermingling with the Egyptians a virtual impossibility. For the most part, their Jewish values were not corrupted or distorted which allowed the Jews to remain distinguished and elevated.
The prophet concludes our haftorah with this theme and promises our ultimate redemption from our extended exile. Amos says, “On that day I will establish the kingdom of Dovid…. so that you, upon whom My name rests, will inherit Edom and all nations.” (9:11,12) Our identity with Hashem as a nation upon whom His name rests, will play a significant role in our final redemption. The Jewish people will inherit their archenemy Edom soley because of their identity with Hashem. Our elevated standards of morality will truly earn us the title of His people and in this merit we will be finally liberated from the world’s corrupt influence and environment.
This special lesson reflects the essence of this week’s parsha, Kedoshim,which embodies Hashem’s lofty call to us for spiritual elevation. The Torah begins and says, “Be holy for I, Hashem, am Holy.” (Vayikra 19:2)Nachmanides (ad loc.) shares with us his classic insight into this mitzva.”Be holy”, says the Ramban, “refers to the introduction of sanctity and spirituality into every dimension of our lives.” Even our physical and mundane activities should be directed towards Hashem. We are forbidden to excessively indulge in worldly pleasures and are expected to limit our passions and pleasures to productive and accomplishing acts. Morality and spirituality should encompass our entire being and our every action should ultimately become the service of Hashem. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of the nations of the world. To them physical pleasure and enjoyment have no restrictions or limitations and religion does not govern their passions or cravings. As said, our standards of morality are truly unique and it is this factor that elevates us and distinguishes us from amongst the nations of the world.
The parsha concludes with this message and says, “And you shall be holy unto Me for I am holy and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.” As stated, we are Hashem’s people because of our holiness -elevated moral and ethical standards – which truly separate us from the nations of the world. And in this merit we will soon experience our final redemption and be a nation unto Him, privileged to remain in His presence for eternity.