This past Sabbath most synagogues outside of Israel read the haftorah from the end of Amos. This haftorah is so important that we read it instead of the official haftorah for Parshat Kedoshim. Most of Amos rails against the injustices performed by the ten tribes of Israel, and prophesies calamities that will befall them.
In all the plazas there will be mourning and in all the streets they will exclaim “Woe! Woe!”; they will call the plowman (אִכָּר) to mourning and the skilled in wailing to lamentation, and in all the vineyards there will be lamentation, for I will pass through your midsts, says the Lord. (Amos 5:16, from Artscroll’s translation)
While some passages imply ultimate destruction, the end of Amos (which we read in the haftorah) is more limited:
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from upon the face of the earth; but I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob, the word of the LORD. For behold, I decree that I will shake out the House of Israel among all the nations, as [grain] is shaken in a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground.
The Plowman of Prosperity
Amos ends with a hopeful message:
Behold, days are coming, the word of the Lord, when the plowman (חוֹרֵשׁ) will meet the reaper, and the treader of grapes [meet] the one that carries seed; the mountains will drip juice, and all the hills will melt.
Why is the plower bumping into the reaper? The simple meaning is that the harvests will be so plentiful that they’ll bump into each other. I was reminded of this once when the door rang to my apartment and it was Google Express delivering a package. Then the door rang again and it was Amazon. Then the door rang a third time and it was Google Express again, delivering another package! So the promised days of prosperity are coming, now we just need world peace.
The Bread of Affliction
I once saw another interpretation of this verse in the Palace Gates Haggadah. A person (we’ll call him Tom) sees a farmer take some seeds and plow them into the ground. He doesn’t understand the purpose of this. Later the wheat grows and the farmer harvests it, so Tom thinks “Ok now I understand, you wanted wheat”, but then the farmer throws away much of the wheat and crushes the rest into powder! After mixing the powder into some kind of clay, the farmer shockingly throws the whole mix into a fire. Only in the end when the bread emerges, does Tom finally understand how the whole process produced the final result. Only then will the plowman meet the reaper and understand the process of history.
We went through many traumatic incidents through history, but if we take a step back after a couple millennia, we can sometimes see how these hardships produced a certain result. For example, idolatry practically disappeared from the Jews after the destruction of the first temple, the monotheism of the people was refined. We hope we’re near the times when can eat our bread in peace and prosperity.
And I will turn the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.