This weeks Haftorah is the Book of Obadiah, which is one chapter
long and consists of 21 verses.
The prophet Obadiah was a convert to Judaism from the nation of Edom
(descended from the patriarch Jacobs brother, Esau). According to
the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin (39a), Obadiah merited to receive prophecy
because he personally hid and protected 100 prophets from the wicked Queen
Jezebel, who sought to murder them. Obadiah, who worked as a royal administrator
for King Ahab and the Queen, put his personal safety at risk in deciding
to save the prophets. He is mentioned in the First Book of Kings (Chapter
18, verse 3), where it states that Obadiah feared G-d greatly.
The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah (31:4) notes that Obadiah was a wealthy man
who spent all of his money on charity and fed the prophets who were in
hiding. The Sages also say that Obadiah was one of the four disciples
of the prophet Elijah (the other three were Micah, Jonah and Elisha).
The Haftorah begins with the prophet foretelling that the nations of the
world will declare war on Edom. G-d will humble Edom, which had arrogantly
come to believe that no one could bring it down. Edom will be plundered
by thieves and the countries it considered allies will turn against it
and hand Edom over to its enemies. G-d promises Edom that because of the
hatred it showed to Israel, it will be humiliated and destroyed. In particular,
the prophet notes that Edom stood on the side and watched as Israel’s
enemies approached the gates of Jerusalem. Since Edom is Israel’s brother
(via Esau and Jacob), Edom’s indifference was bad enough. Worse still,
says the prophet, was that Edom rejoiced at Israel’s downfall and joined
in the fray, attacking the survivors and plundering their possessions.
Because of this, G-d promises that at the end of days, “And the house
of Jacob shall be fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house
of Esau shall become straw, and they shall ignite and consume them, and
the house of Esau shall have no survivors, for G-d has spoken (Chap. 1,
verse 18).” The Jewish people will then inherit Edom’s territory and G-d
will reign as King over the earth.
Connection Between the Haftorah and This Weeks Parsha:
The parsha discusses the battle between the patriarch Jacob and the angel
(whom the Sages identify as the guardian angel of Esau). Though the angel
injures Jacob, it is Jacob who prevails in the end. Similarly, the Haftorah
discusses how Edom (Esau’s descendants) tormented the Jewish people (Jacob’s
descendants), but concludes with a promise that the Jews will ultimately
1. The Web of Lies
After berating Edom for its arrogance, G-d promises to bring them down:
“If you go up high like an eagle, and if you place your nest among the
stars, from there I will bring you down, says the L-rd (Chap. 1, verse
4).” Edom will be preyed upon by thieves, who will steal everything from
them. Obadiah describes the extent of it as follows: “How Esau was searched
out, how his hidden things were revealed (Chap. 1, verse 6)!”
What does the verse mean when it says “how his hidden things were revealed”?
The Avnei Ezel (cited in Maayanah Shel Torah) says that, at various times
throughout history, Edom would cover its wickedness with a thin veneer
of lofty words and noble ideas, speaking of world peace, freedom and the
like. Underneath this, however, Edom’s cruelty remained intact. What the
prophet Obadiah is telling us in the verse, says the Avnei Ezel, is that
in the end, prior to Edom’s fall, the entire world will come to see Edom’s
true nature. “His hidden things” refers to Edom’s traits of brutality
and viciousness. Though Edom tries to hide this, portraying itself in
a far more amenable light, its downfall will be preceded by the revelation
before the entire world of Edom’s true and unsavory character.
In recent weeks, Yasser Arafat has been courted around the world, treated
like a statesman and wooed by the mighty and powerful. He addressed the
UN General Assembly in New York, hosted the Belgian Prime Minister, conferred
with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and met with various other
foreign officials in Ramallah and Gaza. In his public appearances, Arafat
astutely portrays himself as the victim, professing a desire for peace
and asserting that the Palestinians are not the perpetrators of violence,
but its targets. Despite having turned down Israels overly generous
offer at the 2000 Camp David Summit, and despite waging war against the
Jewish state for the past 14 months, Arafat has succeeded in convincing
much of the world that he is committed to resolving the conflict with
Israel peacefully. Meeting with American envoy General Anthony Zinni this
week, Arafat even had the gall to call upon Israel to reach a cease-fire
as if it were Israel that is to blame for the ongoing bloodshed.
Arafats success in spinning this web of lies is immensely frustrating,
even maddening at times, for the truth is that in any other context he
would be considered no better than the Taliban and Osama Bin-Laden. Just
as the Taliban harbored terrorists, so has Arafat, and just as Osama Bin-Laden
murdered thousands of innocents, so has Arafat.
However, as we saw above, the truth will ultimately prevail. As much
as Edom, or Arafat, try to paint themselves as civilized freedom fighters,
guided by noble ideas and a laudable vision, their downfall will eventually
come, because their lying and deception can only work for so long. The
entire world will one day see Arafat for what he truly is a murderous
gangster and thug and once it does, his demise will rapidly follow.
May it not be long in coming.
2. What happened to Brotherly Love
In his rebuke of Edom’s behavior, the prophet refers more than once
to his treatment of his “brother” Jacob: “Because of the violence [against]
your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you… And you should not have looked
on the day of your brother, on the day of his being delivered… (Chap.
1, verses 10, 12).”
Why does the prophet insist on reminding Edom that Jacob is his brother?
Rabbi Yehudah Shaviv, in his book Bein Haftorah LeParsha, says that one
factor behind the prophet’s harsh rebuke of Edom is precisely the fact
that Edom is Jacob’s brother, because one who is harmed by a relative
is not like one who is harmed by a stranger – the pain and bitterness
is obviously greater. Hence the prophet’s insistence on reminding Edom
of his sibling relationship with Jacob - since Edom is Jacob’s brother,
the disappointment and frustration over his treatment of Israel is all
Though we tend to overlook it in light of current events, the fact is
that Jews and Arabs are closely related. Both are children of Abraham,
as Isaac and Ishmael, their respective forebears, were brothers. Jews
and Arabs each have a strong belief in monotheism and each made important
contributions over the centuries in fields such as science, mathematics
and philosophy. Fifty years ago, had the Arabs welcomed the return of
the Jewish people to their homeland as a brother welcomes the return of
his long-lost sibling, the Middle East today would be a far different,
and far better, place. Sadly, however, the Arabs chose to treat the Jews
much as Edom chose to treat Israel not with brotherly love, but
will senseless hatred and cruelty. Though we have many things in common,
the Arabs refuse to tolerate our presence in the region, preferring instead
to try to throw us out of the house. As we saw above, such behavior is
all the more painful and distressing because of the close blood ties between
the two peoples ancestors. Try as they might, however, the Arabs
will never prevail, for just as Esau could not overcome Jacob, so too
shall Ishmael fail to defeat Isaac. The struggle is painful and impassioned,
just as any family row would be, but it is a struggle nonetheless and
it is one that Israel neither sought nor initiated. As long as the Arabs
persist in their loathing and hatred for the Jewish people, the family
feud will, unfortunately, continue.