Haftorah Vayeishev: Amos 2:6-3:8.
In this week’s haftorah, the sale of Joseph by his brothers is referenced, which appears in the Torah portion. The prophet Amos scolds the Jewish people for their transgressions—reminding them that G-d has been exceedingly patient about really bad behavior including idolatry and murder. But they crossed the line this time with mistreatment of society’s most vulnerable classes—widows, orphans, and the poor.
Amos reminds us how not too long ago it was the Jewish people who were vulnerable, and we were led from slavery in Egypt to settle a promised land. Amos describes a potential punishment for becoming too prideful to be kind—“the stout-hearted among the mighty shall flee naked on that day.” And there’s nothing more vulnerable than having to run away without your knickers!
Through Amos’ prophesy we’re reminded that it is because of this special relationship with G-d, much more is expected of the Jewish people. “Only you did I love above all the families of the earth; therefore, I will visit upon you all your iniquities…” G-d might not be paying attention to the affairs of all the other nations, but he’s taking care to notice our misdeeds.
When we hear the phrase “the chosen people” this can evoke many feelings. For some non-Jews it is particularly irksome, and some may think that means we think we’re better than everyone else. I personally know gentiles that point to the long, long, history of the suffering of the Jewish people, and say “that proves that’s not so!” And even for us, certainly in a world which has experienced the Holocaust and even the daily barrage of rocket fire upon Israel, we’ve probably all wondered, “chosen for what?”
Chosen to be a just and righteous people with clear, unwavering values, and respect for ourselves and humanity. Amos infers that punishment has been necessary to “prod” us back onto the path of the just. And certainly I do not suggest that the horrible travesties acted upon us are somehow punishments for collective misdeeds. But from the outside looking in, it’s hard to describe that being “chosen” has always had far more to do with responsibility than rewards.