As Americans, we all love to eat.
A recent study found that over 62% of American adults and 34% of children are overweight or obese, and the average American is about 22 pounds overweight.
Unfortunately, we, as Jews, are not immune to this indulgence of food. After all, as the Rambam (De’os 6:1) writes:
The way of man is to be influenced in his character and actions after his friends and companions, and to habituate himself to the customs of the people of his country. Therefore, one has to associate with righteous people and to constantly sit among learned people, so that one will learn from their actions. One should distance himself from wicked people, who go in darkness, so that one will not learn from their actions.
What does it say about our frum society when the fastest and best-selling books in the Judaica book market are cookbooks? What does it say about our society when any respectable weekly Torah newspaper or magazine feels compelled to have a recipe column? What does it say about our society when too many of us are more excited by the latest non-kosher establishment opening a kosher location than we are about figuring out a Tosafos or doing chesed?
Why must yeshivos and mosdos offer us a gala gourmet spread at a smorgasbord, followed by a delectable six-course dinner (not to mention Viennese tables at times) at their annual banquets in order to get us to write a respectable check to fund their worthy causes? Without these dinners, professional fundraisers comment that people just don’t give much money.
There are American fast-food restaurants trying to convince people that there is such a thing as “fourthmeal,” that meal they want to sell between supper and breakfast. This too is penetrating our society and many kosher restaurants stay open later and later to provide that midnight snack.
All of these are indications that the Orthodox Jewish American way of life has become a culture obsessed with eating. We are all very weak, myself included, in the area of curbing our passion for good food. We all need to improve in the area of avodas Hashem called tayvas achila, an overextended desire for eating. The food could have the best hashgacha, as most of our hundreds of restaurants and thousands of commercial kosher products have, but we still must curb our eating desires and habits.
What does all this have to do with the haftarah this week?
If I say the word Amos, what is the first word that comes into our minds?
Famous Amos, right?
Yes, those cookies are kosher – and good too!
But if we were more spiritually attuned, we would be thinking of the navi who provides us with this week’s prophetic messages in the haftarah, the navi Amos.
Let’s learn a little about the man and his era.
Amos was a contemporary of the more well-known navi, Yeshayahu, though he was older. He lived circa 750 BCE, around 200 hundred years before the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. The first Radak in Sefer Amos teaches us that it is one of three books of Tanach which contain very harsh mussar for Klal Yisrael. (The others are Koheles and Sefer Yirmiyahu.) Each of these seforim begin with the word “Divrei, These are the words,” and the root word dibur always indicates strong speech.
The supreme righteousness of Amos is seen from a Gemara in Succah (52b) where he is listed as one of eight special “nesichei adam, princes among men,” who will appear to us prominently at the beginning of the days of Moshiach. The others are Yishai, Shaul, Shmuel, Tzephaniah, Tzidkayah, Eliyahu and Moshiach himself. Nedarim 38a describes Amos as being very wealthy, and relates that Jewish leaders need to possess wealth in order to be influential. This is the reality of the world we inhabit, especially if we hope that other wealthy commoners will listen to them. (Elsewhere in Chazal [Mishnah Yoma, 1:3], we are told that if a Kohen Gadol does not have monetary means, the nation gives him wealth.)