Friday, November 23, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayishlakh 5779—The Orange Edomite

If, like me, your political leanings are somewhere to the left of the spectrum, and you live with the daily discomfort of the realities of the current administration, then perhaps, as you read the words of the (Sephardic) haftarah for parashat Vayishlakh, from the first chapter of Ovadiyah, you will notice the connections I am noticing.

The Edomites are the descendants of Esav, and the Israelites are the descendants of Yaakov. All these years after the brothers have their peaceful reunion and go their separate ways, the enmity between their descendants remains. This, despite the fact that the reunion, if not a celebration, was at least pleasant enough, with each brother acknowledging his own success as well as the success of his sibling. This, despite the clear instruction in the Torah (Deuteronomy 23:8, partial)

לֹא תְתַעֵב אֲדֹמִי כִּי אָחִיךָ הוּא

You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your kinsman….

Despite these words, the books written after the Torah clearly portray the Edomites as enemies, as a prideful, arrogant, and hateful people. The enmity remains to this day, if in a somewhat different guise, especially if we consider that ancient Edom largely encompassed the land that is today the Kingdom of Jordan.

As you may have read in my musings over the years, I feel the  prophets, the commentators, and rabbis have given Esav an undeserved bad rap. One of the reasons for that is, ostensibly, the continuing historical enmity for the Edomites that pervades the canonical literature. To be fair the Edomites participated in the plunder of Jerusalem, the slaying of many Judaeans, and the destruction of the first Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II between 597-586 BCE. That alone can explain why they remained so reviled. It certainly explains Ovadiyah’s rants against them.

It is easy to misinterpret Ovadiyah’s message. Christian readings of this text often focus on this as an example of G”d’s vengeance, and cite it over and against Judaism to bolster their supersessionist  contentions of a superior G”d of love rather than of vengeance and retribution, specifically citing verse 15:

כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב יוֹם־יְהוָ֖ה עַל־כָּל־הַגּוֹיִ֑ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ יֵעָ֣שֶׂה לָּ֔ךְ גְּמֻלְךָ֖ יָשׁ֥וּב בְּרֹאשֶֽׁךָ׃

The day of the LORD is at hand. Yea, against all nations. As you did, so shall it be done to you; Your conduct shall be requited. [text re-arranged from the JPS to more closely match the order of the Hebrew.]

As you reap, so shall you sow. There, says the supersessionist. Judaism retributive. Christianity love. But is that truly a retributive sentiment, or can we see it differently? Judaism, at heart, is seeking balance between opposing forces/ideas. Another expression of balance is justice. When there is great sin, or great wrong, obtaining justice can require an equally strong redress.

Okay, yeah.  I’ll admit I’m not entirely comfortable with that, or agree with it. It is how W. Gunther Plaut writes about this in his Haftarah Commentary. Nevertheless this sentiment, problematic as it might be, could come in handy.

A brief digression on the title of this musing. This sentiment is blatantly political (not that the rest of this musing isn’t.)  The name Edom comes from this verse:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֗ב הַלְעִיטֵ֤נִי נָא֙ מִן־הָאָדֹ֤ם הָאָדֹם֙ הַזֶּ֔ה כִּ֥י עָיֵ֖ף אָנֹ֑כִי עַל־כֵּ֥ן קָרָֽא־שְׁמ֖וֹ אֱדֽוֹם

And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”—which is why he was named Edom.

If you can’t read the Hebrew, this transliteration might help:

Vayomer Esav al-Yaakov haliteini na min-ha-adom ha-adom hazeh, ki ayeif anochi al-kein kara-sh’mo Edom.

though even a non-Hebrew reader can see the connection between

הָאָדֹ֤ם הָאָדֹם֙



well, you add a little “yellow” (aka bone spurs) to red and you get – orange! (Yes, I know I'm not supposed to abhor an Edomite, but...)​

As I stated at the beginning of this musing, what jumps out at me as I reread this hafatarah  are the obvious parallels between the descriptions of the actions of the Edomites and the actions and behaviors of the present U.S. administration under the Orange Edomite.  Ovadiyah mocks the Edomites for their arrogant pride in much the same way one might mock the current occupant of the White House for his sinful pride. Only he can do it. America first.

What heartens me about this hafatarah is its sentiment that the haughty will be brought low as part of G”d’s justice. For almost every verse in this haftarah there is a parallel in our recent history. If things remain as they are, then this nation will become “least of nations, utterly despised.” The Orange Edomite is leading us down that path quickly.

There is, perhaps, no greater connection than these few words that are part of verse 12:

וְאַל־תַּגְדֵּ֥ל פִּ֖יךָ בְּי֥וֹם צָרָֽה

..and you should not have opened your big mouth on the day of [their] distress!

Mic drop, Ovadiyah.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayishlakh 5778 - Who Will Say #MeToo for Dinah?
Vayishlakh 5777 - My Prayer or Me Prayer
Vayishlakh 5775 - No One's In The Kitchen With Dinah (or Eric or Michael)
Vayishlakh 5774 - Biblical Schadenfreude
Vayishlakh 5773 - That Other Devorah's Tale
Vayishlakh 5772 - One and Many, Many and One
Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5767-Wrestlemania
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!

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