“Now then, I will crush you
as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” — Amos 2:13
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeishev, which means “and he lived,” is from Genesis 37:1—40:23, and the Haftorah is from Amos 2:6—3:8.
This week’s Haftorah reminds us that our actions have consequences. More specifically, this reading stresses that our negative actions – our sins – have negative consequences. Those consequences can be devastating: “Now then, I will crush you, as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” The prophet predicted utter destruction from which no one would escape.
Knowing that God can and does punish is unpleasant, but necessary. As Solomon said in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom . . .” We must have fear of God — knowledge that God does and will punish us for our sins — before we learn anything else. This is the only way to ensure a moral society.
However, we can’t get paralyzed with fear of God. Fear of God is a starting point in serving God, but it is not the endpoint. We must progress to love of God and partnership with God. God is the one who punishes, but also the one who blesses. We can’t get so bogged down by the consequences of disobedience that we miss all the beauty of God’s promises for following Him.
I am reminded of a story about an 18th-century rabbi who used to visit the places of the lost and dejected. On one such outing, the rabbi was stunned to see a former student amongst the lowly people. “What happened?” the rabbi inquired. The student explained that the more he reflected on himself, the more he saw his flaws. He felt doomed, unworthy, and unredeemable. As a result, he gave up on himself completely. The rabbi took hold of the student’s quivering hands and said, “If you believe that you have the power to destroy, then believe that you have the power to heal.”
We can’t focus only on punishment. If we believe that we have the power to bring destruction upon ourselves, then we must also believe that we have the power to bring God’s blessings upon ourselves.
While we need to know that God will punish evil behavior, we also need to remind ourselves what lies in store for the righteous and obedient. Take a look at some of God’s promises: “If you follow my decrees . . . I will send you rain in its season . . . you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land . . . I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers . . . You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. . . I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:3–12).
This week, let us be aware of God’s consequences, but let’s also be inspired by God’s promises. Let’s follow Him wholeheartedly with love, faith, and joy.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President