“What’s In The Haftarah This Week?”

Posted on November 30, 2023

By Hazzan Jacob Sandler

Ovadiah is one of the lesser known prophets. His book in the Tanakh is only a single chapter. His book is also, in its entirety, the haftarah for parashat Vayishlach. Ovadiah is believed to be a contemporary of Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah), but many scholars believe his work was finished or edited after the destruction of the first Temple in 586 B.C.E. by the Romans. Ovadiah prophesies the downfall of Edom, descendents of Esau. Interestingly, the parashah shows us a warm reunion between Jacob and his brother. The rivalry that began in their mother’s womb seemed as bygones after 20 years apart. Historically, Edom became the name for the Roman empire and the Christian world, and Ovadiah’s vision makes sense after the Romans destroyed the first Temple.

As I was reviewing the haftarah, one verse that stood out to me was Obadiah 1:10, “For the outrage (heb. Hamas) to your brother Jacob, disgrace shall engulf you…” and the verses that follow are a litany of rhetorical questions and rebuke. I hear the Edomites called out for their role in Israel’s “day of calamity” – it seems in their haughtiness that Edom was either complicit or even celebrating. Anytime the word Hamas comes up, I have the same reaction I imagine you all did. The Hebrew word literally means “corruption”, “lawlessness”, “outrage”, “oppression” and “destruction”. These words that follow are the ones I want to share with those who tear down posters of hostages, or call for Jewish destruction in the name of ‘liberation’ or ‘justice.’ 

“How could you gaze with glee on your brother that day, on his day of calamity! How could you gloat over the people of Judah on that day of ruin! How could you loudly jeer on a day of anguish…as you did, so shall it be done to you; your conduct shall be requited.” Obad. 1:12-15

I can’t help but feel as if the war in Israel is biblical in nature. I continue to find comfort in the words of the Prophets, and in the stories of our Torah. Each prophet in their own time calls on our people to be our best ethical selves, to draw closer to God, and have faith that redemption, liberation and peace will come, and those enemies who rise up against us will face judgment. Ultimately, I pray that this cycle of violence and vengeance will end. I pray that the House of Jacob and the House of Esau can reconcile, weeping and embracing as they do in Genesis. In the words of Bernie Taupin, sung by Elton John “He’s my brother. Let us live in peace” (Border Song).