In Acharei, hangin’ out with the heathen hoards runs the people afoul in this week’s haftorah, a similar theme to the parsha as a whole, during which the people are warned against bringing animal offerings anywhere but in the Temple, the consumption of blood, and enumerates a number of forbidden interpersonal relations. Amos delivers the warning that the Northern kingdom of Israel is doomed for destruction, but that eventually, the Jewish people will be redeemed and “mountains shall drip sweet wine” and that the people will be allowed to return to the desolate cities.
Similarly, in Kedoshim, through Ezekiel, the people are chastised for not keeping Shabbat holy and again, seem to have a recurring problem with idol worship.
It’s difficult indeed to keep one’s bearings when examining the haftorah, and this week’s pairings illustrate that beautifully. Because the portions were chosen to correspond with the general theme of the parshot, rather than the timeline, each week seems to skip around aimlessly. For example, in Acharei, we’re hearing from Amos, whose prophetic career was short, about 750 BCE to his estimated death of 745 BCE, a mere 5 years. He was a sheep heardsman and fig farmer—not from the priestly class.
To the extent that common folks had an idea about what was going on in the world around them—life must have seemed terribly tumultuous. We already can glean the frequency with which wars were raged and kingdoms usurped in this time period. Assyria pretty much becomes a ruling power of the region—reigning over the Near East, Asia Minor, North Africa and a good chunk of the Mediterranean (the Greek city-states would be taking over much of the rest, soon if not already.) The polytheistic religions dominated this region for thousands of years, so for the tiny outpost of Judah, which was frequently sacked, conquered, and re-sacked, that any Jews survived wave upon wave of ruler was quite miraculous indeed—and for an underdog of a religion (one G-d to more than 2,100 recorded Mesopotamian deities) creating a real separation between Jews and the assaulting heathen hoards was a pretty significant priority, which needed constant re-affirmation.
More than 150 years later would put us squarely in the career of Ezekiel, who by contrast to Amos, was one of about 3,000 upper class Jews in exile in Babylonia, and was born to a priestly class and specifically trained for his prophetic career. The battle against polytheism is still raging—as are the physical wars; Jerusalem falls to Babylonia in 587 BCE. The Greeks are in full-swing, culturally speaking, and the Persian Empire is about to burst onto the scene—both of whom will have altercations with the Tribes.
Casey (Kefira) McCarty is a published author living in Ohio. She is the Assistant Director of the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop space, and is an artisan who crafts jewelry, Judaica and fine art available online and in Central Ohio galleries and boutiques. You can find her online shop at www.sinemetudesigns.etsy.com