Monday, November 13, 2006

Amos: A Contemporary to Ourselves

Posted by Debbie


When reading through parts of Sefer Amos, I was struck by the line “Hear this prophecy, you cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). First and foremost why would Amos preach to cows, and secondly, if he was not preaching to cows, why would he refer to people as cows?

Amos’s message can easily resonate with many American’s today. “The cows of Bashan” become “the cows of America” and Amos’s constant message: help the poor, or God will smite you:
Because you trample upon the poor and exact a burden of grain from him – you have built houses of hewn stone, but you will not dwell in them.(5:11).

The people of Israel were more concerned about themselves and their well-being then they were concerned about the wellbeing of fellow Jews. (The sentiment is repeated in the times of Ezra, when the Jews are not concerned about the building of the second Beit Hamikdash.)

Furthermore it is unclear to us whether Amos was rich or poor. Ones view regarding his financial status could change what one take away from the sefer. Views depend greatly on whether Amos was a poor “dresser of sycamore trees”, who preaches to the rich men to Israel to give to the poor. Or he could be a rich man “who works with animals” telling others of his own financial class to give to the poor.

Do you think it is fair (if Amos was indeed poor) for Amos to preach for the rich to help the poor if he is poor?

Sources:
Catholic Encyclopedia
Sefer Amos
Jewish Encyclopedia

12 Comments:

Anonymous Becky said...

Thank you for the wonderful post Deborah, I do think it is ok if Amos was poor for him to preach to the rich to give to the poor. Since we dont know if Amos was rich or poor it means that he was not going around screaming everywhere "IM POOR, oh by the way God will love you if you give money to the poor (aka me)". He was more looking out for his nation and trying to spread kindness. And if he was rich it would definatly help the situation, being as if he says give to the poor, then demonstrates that by giving money to the poor more people would be willing to follow his ways.

November 14, 2006 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Lisa Amy said...

Well, i definetly don't think that amos was literally talking to cows. rather, i think amos was refering to his audience as cows (using cow as a derogatory term). i inferred this because of amos' message. Since he is saying that- wow you guys are so stingy(/ ur stingy cows lol)- start giving more tzedaka, then the term cow makes sence in that context. Now, moving on to the next question, I think that even if Amos was poor, it would absolutly be fine for him to tell rich people to give more money to the poor. This is because he is not telling them this inorder to get money for himself; Amos is soley saying this profesy because hashem told him to do so ( as we learned in class from perek 8, i believe, when amos was accused of being a navi sheker); Amos is a navi for Gods sake , it is his job to pretect the poor.. Anyway, we must also rememeber that Amos might not be poor; we learned in class today that one of the opinions of him is that he was a rich/ wise man living within shephards. Ok that was my bit for the day, nice post debbie.
~lisa

November 14, 2006 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if amos' message was to give food/money to the ppor, the term "cows" could be reffering to the rich people. in those days fatness was associateed with wealthiness and when calling someone a cow it coul dbe reffereing to their wealth. it could aslo be like what lisa said, a derogatory term for someone who keeeps their welath to themselves and make themselves fat.
as for amos preaching to give charity i think its fair because like becky said, hes not askign them to give hoim moeny hes saying in general. part of the naviim's message [that we know] were to better the people spiritually and by stengthen ones behavior ben adam l'chavairo one can strengthen his relationship ben adam l'makom. on a national level if the people begin to give charity and not jsut think about themselves they are getting rid of the hamas and bad things within the nation- allowing Hashem to not punish them

~tamar schneck

November 15, 2006 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above posts that Amos was not preaching to cows (or else we should be looking into his sanity, or lack there of) but rather it was the rich.

But in terms of he being poor, and preaching about giving to the poor, in my opinion could make him invested mostly in his self interest. After all, we know Amos was living in a time where self-interest was quite high. It is quite plausible that he was "tainted" by the people of Israel (simiar to Yonah).

Debbie

November 18, 2006 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Rachael said...

If we assume that Amos really was poor, I still think that it is fair for him to preach to the rich to give money to the poor. Like Tamar and Becky said,Amos was a Navi and it was his duty to get the people to do teshuvah and to become better people. I think that it is all the more important for him to represent his own needs and the needs of others like him because he had a personal conviction as well as a national duty. The people who actually suffer from poverty should have a greater right than the comfortable rich to represent poverty before God and Man. The society of the Nevi'im was supposed to be on a higher spiritual plane than that of ours today, so all the more so should the poor have a voice. Btw, Good Blog Debbie!
-Rachael R.

November 18, 2006 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The principle of giving to the poor is a universally known value. Whether or not one is poor, charity is a basic value. Amos had a mission:to preach inorder for others' to repent. This means that he sacrificed his normal life inorder to give his life to others; to spend his life trying to improve others' lives. Therefore, clearly amos did not care about himself but rather cared about the well being of the jewish people as a whole. Clearly, he didnt seem like the type to just care about his own well being and not others; especially if he was a navi. Therefore, whether he was rich or poor, upperclass or lowerclass, he cared for his people and held principles of justice,repentence, etc. Therefore, because it was his job to be a messenger of God and thus reflect Hashem's desire for am yisrael, amos will especially be concerned with issues such as charity which greatly effects the wellbeing of am yisrael. Additionally, if amos was a navi, and a navi is bnei yisrael's connection with God, he was concerned with spirituality. Therefore, he had to look past petty things such as his own financial state. If bnei yisrael were giving charity, it was a sign of spiritual climax, and that they were clearly on a high madreiga and vise versa. Therefore, amos saw charity as a clear indication of yirael's spiritual state and thus was very concerened independant of his own financial state-whci had nothing to do with his being a navi and preaching about charity. -arella

November 19, 2006 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Tova said...

ok...in terms of the debate of wether amos was poor or not....well we clearly dont know and there is contraversy as to wether he was poor or rich however building on the topic of assuming he is poor and wether it is fair for him to be preaching on behalf of the poor when indeed he himself is poor....i think this makes total sense and in NO negative ways at all. about what debbie said that ppl at this time being self intrested...i disagree. a navis job is not to worry about himself or his own self being....y would amos be any differemt- he wasnt classified as a "bad" navi. we dont learn from anywhere of amos being so to speak "bad" therefore we cant just assume he was self intrested. a navi's job is to go and help others and this is exactly what amos is doing, despite his own social being. forget about the fact of wether amos is poor or rich, he is doing his job of helping other. with this in mind it makes total sense that he is asking of the rich to help the poor for he is trying to help the poor (i.e. others not himself). wether amos was poor or not has nothign to do with this. even if he was poor he is still just fulffilling his job as a navi, in this spacific case helping the poor=others. i dont think his own personal social status has any interferance with this. wether amos was poor or not may be extremely relavent for other purposes but in this case of wether or not it was fair of amos , even if he indeed was himself poor, to preach for the rich to help the poor, has any relavence in connection to wether amos was poor because even if so, its not like he is preaching for himself he is preaching for the welfare of other and i dont think we have the right to atuomatically assume otherwise (i.e. that he is preaching for himself)

November 19, 2006 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the fact that he was (we're assuming) poor certainly would have raised some eyebrows.But he did not preach as a poot person; he preached as a navi. His job was essentially "moral compass of Bnei Yisroel", and of course he should urge Bnei Yisroel to do the right thing, regardless of his background! People may raise their eyebrows, but in the end, they should remember that Amos is a messenger for God, not for himself.

However, as humans, we like to imagine that we can make distinctions. And many of us can. But asking an entire nation to make a distinction between a public life and a personal life is a difficult task at best. (Where do you think political mudslinging comes from?) Therein lies the reason why most Navi'im were wealthy.

However, if a Navi is not wealthy, there is nothing wrong with him preaching charity. It's a part of the job that has to be done.

~Miriam Meyers

November 20, 2006 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As many others said, I agree with the statement that Yonah was not wrong to tell the rich people to help the poor. I do not believe that Yonah was a selfish person and was asking the people just for his benefit. I think he truly wanted the people to have good midot and return to Hashem. That was, after all, what many of the neviim were told to do. Hashem appears to them and over and over again we are told of their failed attempts to return Bnei Yisrael to Hashem. Similarly, Amos wanted the people to learn right from wrong, good from bad. He wasn’t asking for the money for himself. I think that if he wanted the rich people to support him through monetary payments, he would have gone about it in a different way. There is an interpretation that the cows of Bashan refer to the women who indulge in luxurious lifestyles. Another idea is that the wealthy people, who enjoyed eating. This then goes along with the idea that they were called cows because they were shortly after led out to be slaughtered. After all, the fattest cows are the best. I believe that this statement is open to many different interpretations. Here are a few to think about.
Naomi Z

November 25, 2006 6:27 PM  
Anonymous dani said...

i think it is appropriate because he knows what it is like to be poor. Maybe he thinks the rest of the poor people dont stand up for themselves, so he took it upon himself to represent them. The fact that he called the rich people cows though was wrong. He should be humble about asking for money, and explaining why he and the other poor people need it. If someone came to your door to ask for money and called you a cow you would slam the door in their face.

November 28, 2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Amalia said...

I think it doesn't matter whether or not Amos was poor if he was telling others to do basic kindness towards their fellow man.Charity is charity and Amos telling the rich to use their money for a good purpose doesn't hold any ill in it. Like Dani said , he knows what it's like to be poor.He was also probably around others even worse than he was.It could have been that he had no thought of himself when preaching to the rich to give charity, but rather thinking of those worse off than he was. (Esmeralda in, The Hunchback of Notre Dame-"G-d Help the Outcasts" anyone? It totally relates in an obscure way!)Anyway, my point being that who better to tell someone that poor people do need charity than someone who is experiencing it himself?

December 14, 2006 8:59 PM  
Anonymous hadas chana said...

God sent Amos to preach for whatever Hashem needed. If that was to tell the peopleto help the porr, then that was his job. I wholehertedly agree wiht Naomi. It feels kind of silly to hear GBush talking about Gay rights. But a navi also has to be someone that the people will listen to. I beliebe that, because of what Naomi said, and goign with the fact that Amos really was poor, he was the best perosn to delive rhtis message. If he was rich, he would appeal to the rich people as well. Either way, like what Amalia said, it is a simple value and can be said by anyone.
-das

December 26, 2006 4:17 PM  

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